In a city that moves as quickly as New York, it’s rare to find a chef and pastry chef team that’s worked together as long as Larissa Raphael and Bill Telepan. The two met while working at Judson Grill, and, after spending a year apart, reunited to open Telepan (72 West 69th Street, 212-580-4300) in 2005. Today, Raphael is taking her seasonally spearheaded and playful menu ideas downtown for the opening of Telepan Local (329 Greenwich Street, 212-966-9255), a casual, tapas-style offshoot of the Upper West Side fixture. Here, we chatted with Raphael about wood-burning oven desserts, McDonald’s-inspired dishes, and the sometimes enigmatic origins of pastry trends.
What can guests expect at Telepan Local?
It’s going to be a much more casual restaurant, and it’s going to be tapas-style. It will still be American food but in smaller, more simple plates. The desserts are going to be a reflection of that, too.
What will you be making for the new menu?
Two layer cakes will always be offered. I’m starting off with a coconut layer cake and a pecan and brown sugar icing layer cake. I’ll have two sundaes that are offered. One of the ones I’m doing is — I love peanut butter — a chocolate peanut butter sundae with salted pretzels. I make this pretzel toffee that I chop up and put with the peanut butter swirl ice cream, chocolate ice cream, and hot fudge. The other sundae is going to be an apple pie sundae, which I’ll probably change as the seasons come and go. I deconstructed an apple pie, basically. It’s cinnamon ice cream and vanilla ice cream, then I’m sprinkling streusel on it, and adding pie crust and apple filling, which will cook with cinnamon and nutmeg. Then I’ll have a a pear galette. I mix the pears with your basic cinnamon and sugar and orange zest, and I add some basil and rosemary for another accent to the fruit. This one was inspired because we have a big wood-burning pizza oven, and we thought it’d be fun to have a galette that gets heated up in there.
Why opt for a wood-burning oven?
It’s so hot in that oven — I think we had it at about 600° yesterday, as opposed to an oven that’s at 325°, 350°, or 400° even. It’s so hot, so it imparts this toastier flavor onto the crust. I’ll probably partially cook it in a regular oven so it has a slower cooking time so the fruit gets soft, and then I’ll heat it up in the wood-burning oven, which will finish cooking it and get it toasty. I think it’s going to be really cool.
What were you keeping in mind when you were creating these desserts?
I wanted the desserts to be fun. It’s tapas-style; it’s festive, you’re ordering lots of plates, and I wanted desserts that would be fun to eat and not be as complicated as the plated desserts that I do at Telepan. Tapas usually come out a little faster, so oftentimes we’d think about what we could make that would fit the same pattern as the pace and idea of the other plates.
How would you define your style in the kitchen?
From working with Bill over many years and from working in Seattle, I really like the idea of cooking locally as much as you can. We go to the greenmarket, find what’s there and bring it in — I like the seasonal aspect of changing things as they come in. “Farm-to-table” has become such a phrase, but I would love for that to not just be a fad; I really do like the idea of that. The other thing is that I like for my desserts to have a certain amount of fun to them. Something that you get excited to eat, that you really enjoy because it’s comforting; it’s yummy. And maybe something that challenges you a little bit, like “oh, I didn’t think of eating a quince granita,” but then when you have it, that it’s delicious and it satisfies you in the way that dessert can be really comforting.
How do you develop your flavor profiles?
When I’m making a dish, I’m definitely checking for something that has brightness of flavor and balance. I don’t like for my desserts to be too sweet, and I like for there to definitely be layers of flavor — even within my ice creams. I’m always looking for background flavors and background notes whether it’s an herb or a spice. Ultimately I want my desserts to be round, balanced, and bright — not just sweet.
Have you ever been wary about a dessert’s initial outcome but then see that customers love it?
I have this one dessert that is a sunflower cake with sunflower oil ice cream and sunflower butter. The cake mimics an olive oil cake, and we had found this really nice sunflower oil. On the first go, I was thinking, this isn’t going to work at all. I don’t remember what made me try it again, but I played around with the sugar content of it, and I made the sunflower butter on the salty side, so that when you’re eating the cake, ice cream, and butter, you get this really beautiful sunflower taste and the salt kicks in to offset the richness of the cake and ice cream. It really came together well; I love the dessert. I find that the people who order it really, really like it. That was a cool one to work out.
Are there any flavor combinations that you’ve always been really fond of?
I am a sucker for chocolate and peanut butter — I love those two together. I definitely like the play of salt and chocolate. I like strawberry and anise — they really complement one another very well. I do a sundae with cream cheese ice cream, and in the summer I’ll do a blueberry sorbet and sauce; it’s a play on blueberry cheesecake. I like that fruit and cream cheese combination. And I still always love a vanilla ice cream. I love how pure and straightforward it tastes.
What’s the secret to working relationship that’s lasted as long as the one you and Bill have?
First of all, I like Bill’s food. I like his style of cooking, I like how he thinks about food. And I respect him for that. Having those good feelings towards his food keep me inspired and feeling good about being a part of the Telepan team. And then personally, I like Bill. He makes me laugh. And I think we’re similar in that we take ourselves and the food seriously, of course, and we work really hard. But we also like to laugh and have fun, and it shows in the food.
What inspires your desserts?
Sometimes a memory will. I’ll be walking along, and I’ll think of something I ate at some point in time or some period of time in my life, and something about it will make me think, “Oh, what if I did this type of dessert?” Sometimes it’s a memory that causes me to want to make a dessert that will give me that feeling. As an example, I used to work with another pastry sous chef — she lives in California now — and I was thinking about a funny story she told me about working at McDonald’s as a teenager. She said, “Oh yeah, we’d be hanging out and would deep fry the apple pies and eat them with ice cream.” I’m not a big McDonald’s person or anything, but then I was thinking about it and was like, “what would be wrong with a high-end fried apple pie and really great ice cream?” So the inspiration sort of came from me laughing about that story and then trying it out. Who doesn’t like hot pie and ice cream?
When you get off of work, what’s the first thing you love to eat and drink?
First would be a glass of white wine, and my second favorite thing to order is a margarita.
Are there any ingredients you’re working with currently that you’re really excited about?
I buy a lot of ingredients from someone who sources all of the ingredients that you don’t think of when you think “farm-to-table.” He tried to find places from around the world whose farming methods and how they treat their workers are in alliance with the philosophies that we like to work with at Telepan. I love the vanilla beans he introduced me to, and the cinnamon sticks–I really enjoy using them.
Would you say that pastry trends ever influence your menu?
I would like to say yes, whether it’s intentional or not. Sometimes it’s because maybe I ate something somewhere and really liked it and thought it’d be fun to do my own version of it. Then there was one point that I had a s’mores dish on my menu — I had decided to put that on when I was thinking about memories. And then funnily, all around, all of these restaurants were offering s’mores — and I hadn’t seen their menus or talked to anyone. I don’t know how it happens. Another example is red velvet cake, which I often put on our cookie plate. You hadn’t heard of red velvet cake in forever, and it seemed kind of novel, and now everybody does red velvet. I don’t try to follow the trends, but it’s kind of funny that often something will end up on so many different menus.
What’s your favorite thing about being a pastry chef?
I do really like baking. It was a hobby before I started doing it. I also like the energy of the kitchen. There’s a hectic energy at times and there’s something about that and the team aspect of trying to get it all together, for just any night or a big event or a big holiday — I really like that feeling.