NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - With his color tattoos and pompadour hair, it's easier to imagine Johnny Iuzzini as a rock musician than a prize-winning dessert maker.
The 34-year-old has been the executive pastry chef at Michelin three-star Jean Georges in New York City since 2002, following stints with esteemed chefs Daniel Boulud and Francois Payard.
In addition to his numerous culinary awards, including James Beard Foundation's outstanding pastry chef of the year, a local newspaper named Iuzzini New York City's sexiest chef in 2007.
He recently published his first cookbook, "Dessert FourPlay", featuring his signature pairings of complementary flavors and textures.
Iuzzini, who grew up in upstate New York, spoke to Reuters about his image and his passion for pastry.
Q: How do your desserts reflect your personality and edgy persona?
A: "I'm definitely a risky person, a chancy person. If you see me and my desserts, you wouldn't necessarily draw a line between me and my desserts. My desserts are a reflection of where I've worked over the years, the high quality restaurants and the chefs I've worked for."
Q: So your desserts are a blend of your personality and experiences?
A: "There always has to be a balance ... You cook for your clientele. There are six courses that come before me. I have to follow what's going on in the savory kitchen. Maybe people consider me edgy but at the same time there is a lot of finesse as well. It's very precise with what we do."
Q: Why did you decide to become a pastry chef?
A: "A lot of pastry chefs like myself started out as cooks. When I grew up there wasn't such a thing as a pastry chef. When I was a cook I had a few desserts to do and that was it. Also my mother was a wildlife rehabilitator so I grew up feeding animals. When I was at a restaurant I had a hard time killing and butchering whole animals. I wanted to get away from doing that."
Q: What ingredients are you working with right know?
A: "We are working with more caramels, nuts and chocolates. We are working with squash, apples, pears, exotic fruits and citrus."
Q: Besides yourself, who makes your favorite dessert?
A: "Sam Mason (owner of Tailor in New York City) is a friend of mine. He rides the line of sweet and savory better than anyone I know. He uses a lot of vegetables and ingredients you wouldn't normally see in a pastry kitchen."
Chocolate-chipotle soup with milk chocolate coconut foam
(Serves 4 to 6)
For the milk chocolate coconut foam
5 ounces (150 g) whole milk chocolate (preferably Valrhona Jivara 40 pct cacoa), chopped
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
Put the chocolate in a glass bowl and melt in the microwave, using 30-second bursts and stirring after each burst, or melt in a double boiler.
Bring the coconut milk to a simmer in a saucepan. Add the chocolate and emulsify with an immersion blender. Refrigerate until cool, then emulsify again with an immersion blender. Pour into a whipped cream maker and charge with a cream whipper charger (N2O). Shake vigorously. Refrigerate until needed or for up to 2 days.
For the Soup
(Makes about 3 1/2 cups)
Scant 1/4 ounce (6 g) chipotle chilies
About 3-1/4 cups (780 g) milk
5 ounces (150 g) milk chocolate (preferably Valrhona Jivara 40 pct cacao), chopped
1. Heat a small skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the chilies, and toast them for about 90 seconds, turning them once. Let the chilies cool, then remove the seeds and chop.
2. Put the chilies in a small saucepan with 1.5 cups of the milk. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and infuse for 20 minutes. Mix with an immersion blender to pulverize the chilies. Strain through a fine strainer into a measuring cup and add enough milk to make 3 cups. Pour the milk into a clean saucepan and bring to a boil.
3. Put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Pour about one-third of the milk into the center and stir from the inside of the bowl out. Continue adding milk gradually as the chocolate melts. Mix with an immersion blender.
Chocolate brioche croutons
Shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted
Fill a small glass or a cup about two-thirds full with the soup and top with the foam. Garnish with some croutons and toasted coconut. Repeat for each serving.
Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney