What inspires a pastry chef?

celery sorbet

Do you ever look at a recipe and wonder how the chef came up with the idea for it? An article from indexed magazine Bon Appetit answers that question, at least for Brooks Headley, James Beard Award-winning chef, formerly of New York's Del Posto. Headley, whose recent cookbook received excellent reviews, spoke with BA about how - and when - he gets inspired.  

First, he dispels the notion that he has a glamorous space in which to endlessly tinker with exotic ingredients. Headley notes that very few restaurants have their own experimental "laboratories." One that did was El Bulli, which had something called a taller, or workshop. Headley proposed that concept to Del Posto owners (Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali) several years ago. The reaction wasn't exactly what he wanted. Says Headley, "Have you ever seen one of those YOU WANT IT WHEN? desk tchotchkes with a series of characters clutching their guts, paralyzed with laughter? Really didn't take."

Instead, Headley has to wait to be inspired, which often occurs at the most inopportune times. He notes that inspiration "usually strikes in the middle of dinner service, when we are getting bludgeoned with orders. So I forget a lot of my ideas. I try writing them down on scraps of printer paper, which get tacked to an adjacent bulletin board in the finest serial-killer style. The tinier the chance of my having time to grab a Sharpie, the huger the awesomeness of the lightbulb moment."

Headley also gets ideas from inspirational books which he keeps near his workstation. They're not all dessert books nor even all cookbooks. He explains, "There is something magical and humbling about skimming a Sherry Yard book during a lull and getting reminded that you know absolutely nothing about meringues, and you should switch careers ASAP."

Photo of Sfera di caprino, celery and fig agrodolce and celery sorbet from The New York Times by Brooks Headley

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