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Like many kids, DBGB (299 Bowery, 212-933-5300) pastry chef Myriam Eberhardt knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up. “I always liked cooking and making food at home with my family,” she explains. What she didn’t know then — but soon discovered — was that her culinary passion was in pastry: “I always had a sweet tooth and wanted to know what they were doing in pastry.”
After five years of working the kitchen’s savory side at La Manoir aux Quat’saisons, a two Michelin star restaurant in Oxfordshire, England, the Alsace-born chef decided to trade in her fillets for fondants and didn’t look back. It was at an exhibition at the restaurant in 2005 when she met chef Daniel Boulud, who offered her a pastry chef position at Café Boulud. After two years at Café Boulud and two years at DB Bistro Moderne, Eberhardt is now helming the pastry program at French-brasserie-meets-American-tavern DBGB (299 Bowery, 212-933-5300), where she spins out seasonally-influenced classics — from Meyer lemon Napoleons to orange confit and Grand Marnier soufflés. Here, she discusses why sugar won her over in the end, the one French ingredient she can’t find anywhere in New York, and why she loves spiking her desserts.
Why the move from savory to pastry?
For me it’s really about the approach. Most people say pastry is a science. You’re making a recipe, you follow a recipe, and at the end, you have the product you’re expecting. But in savory — in cooking a steak, for example — it’s more than a recipe of how to perfectly cook a steak. Pastry definitely suits me.
How do you showcase your personality through pastry, a field that, as you said, is more regimented than savory?
I feel more comfortable tweaking some of the ingredients in a recipe — for example, using a different type of sugar — and I’m not too worried about the outcome because I understand how it works. Also, when it comes to cooking things — an apple for example — it comes to a point where you have to evaluate it. And that’s more of a [savory] cook’s skill. Because when it comes to fruit, depending on how ripe it is, you have to assess it while it’s cooking.
Are there any other lessons you obtained while working in savory that you now apply to your days in the pastry kitchen?
Seasoning. Most of the pastries we do use a little bit of salt, and I think I’m more sensitive to noticing when the seasoning works [in a dish].
How would you define your culinary style?
I definitely like the French classic dessert approach. [Chef] Daniel always gives us liberties in terms of what we want to do in our desserts, but we still have to follow his [culinary] viewpoints of following the seasons; following the fruits. I definitely agree with his way of thinking about desserts and what he likes to see in pastry.
What was the inspiration behind the Baked Alaska on the menu?
When we opened DBGB especially, Daniel was like, “I want ice cream.” So we knew we wanted an ice cream dessert on the menu, and we came up with a baked alaska. It’s been going over really well. It tastes really good, and it’s a little bit of a show, as well.
What is your all-time favorite dessert?
My favorite dessert is a rhubarb tart. Back home my mom would make one. You make the tart shell then put the fresh rhubarb with a little bit of sugar in it, then cover it with a flan — a baked cream mixture. You bake it like this in an oven, and it’s baked in a flan kind of way. When it came out of the oven my mom would put meringue on top, so it looks very similar to a Baked Alaska. Then you torch the top to caramelize it. The rhubarb is a little sour, and that goes really well with the meringue.
So with rhubarb season around the corner, do you have any dishes in the works?
I’m going to go back to the tarts, definitely. I’m working on different flavor combinations. Orange flavored ice cream works really well with rhubarb, even some kinds of spices. Mint also works really well.
Are there any ingredients from back home that you really miss using in your desserts?
You can get pretty much anything here in New York. Product-wise, the only thing I can’t seem to find is a kind of plum called Mirabelle. It looks like a sugar plum — it’s really tiny, it’s the size of a large marble — and they’re really sweet and really nice. All across Eastern France — Alsace, Lorraine — it’s a really common plum. We’d do really nice tarts and sorbets with them. I’ve only found it once at the Union Square Greenmarket, and the farmer was like, “I have this tree in my backyard. I don’t know what it is, exactly.” It’s really rare to find it in the States now.
It seems that you like to incorporate alcohol into your desserts. Any reason, in particular?
Yeah, I like the booze. It brings flavor to different desserts and can work really well. Especially in the winter — I can get away with it a little bit more because it [lends] warmer flavors.
Is there a certain alcohol, in particular, that you like to use?
Rum, because of the flavor profile. I love mixing it with ice cream.
On your days off, do you find yourself at home making savory or sweet dishes?
Savory, definitely. I’m on a sugar high for five or six days a week, so my day off is savory. I cook with my fiancé, and he’s from India. I had the chance to spend [time] with his mom recently, and it was fun to see the different spices and flavors that are typical of that cuisine.