Chef Chris Coombs has received many accolades all well deserved and hard-earned. Clearly, Chef Coombs knows what he is doing on more levels than one because he has at least one other star in the kitchen at Deuxave. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with Pastry Chef Shaun Velez to chat about his pastry journey and to see (and taste) what he is creating at the intersection of Comm. Ave and Mass. Ave (Deuxave), a long way from E. 65th Street (DANIEL NYC).
Chef Velez left a path towards science for one in the culinary world and discovered pastry. Something about the intersection of his science mind, artistic vision, and ability to get the most out of his talented mentors (most notably Ghaya Oliviera of DANIEL), produced an incredible talent, that I’m not sure Chef Velez really acknowledges, but I am certain Chef Coombs recognized upon hiring him.
Tasting Chef Velez’s creations, was a revelation for me. I realized that saying “I’m not a dessert person.” Is a bit ridiculous. It is a like saying “I don’t like beverages.” Of course you like beverages. You might not like all kinds of drinks but you do drink. Some people go for cocktails, others like a nice cold glass of water or milk. There are times when a nice hot cup of coffee or tea really hits the spot. Wine is wonderful with just the right food and if wine won’t do then a beer or cider will be just right.
Dessert is complicated. It isn’t one thing that can just be dismissed as an entire category of food. What I realize is that dessert is difficult. Fry something up and add some salt to it and I’m happy. Throw some butter, sugar and flour together and I might not be. The perfect dessert is hard to come by and ho hum desserts are a dime a dozen. Give me a dessert menu and I’m looking for the least chocolate, something tart or tangy, and anything with custard or fruit is a bonus.
At first glance, on Chef Shaun Velez’s menu, the Meyer Lemon Vacherin served with meyer lemon sorbetti, black pepper chantilly, red currant gelée and matcha paper caught my attention. I was certain it would be my favourite dessert. On the menu, one was chocolate and I never go for chocolate. Another was a crème brulée and those tend to be a crowd pleaser but rarely done well so I was ready to write that one off. Then, there was the Baba au Calvados which was intriguing but did I really want to revisit a heavy boozy old school dessert? The blood orange tart was intriguing though because I love blood oranges and the savory sesame custard and thyme ice cream seemed like just my kind of thing.
So there I was ready to try two desserts that might be just right for me and three that I’d just have to politely nod and sample and repeat my “I’m just not a dessert person.” mantra.
Let’s just say I was so wrong. The only thing I got right is that the Vacherin was a favourite. It’s hard to say that it was a true favourite because I liked so much about each of the desserts. Tasting 5 of chef Velez’s desserts side by side should have made it easy for me to pick a favourite but instead it made it nearly impossible. The components of each dessert were spectacular alone and pure magic all together. And shall I remind you that this is coming from someone who until yesterday was “not a dessert person”? This may be the first time I’m looking forward to going to a restaurant for the last course rather than taking a bite of someone else’s last course as an after thought.
It is really hard to put into words the “x factor” that these desserts have. I just want to emphasize that although the desserts are all beautiful, their beauty goes way beyond the eye. The process begins with thought, and with an almost scientific method that Chef Velez has when creating these dishes flavour upon flavour. Somewhere between that first thought and the final plating emerges the art, the true art of this pastry chef. I have tried to describe what I loved in each dish below, but words definitely do not do them justice.
Baba au Calvados with a ginger biscuit, orange cream, a quince gelée and ice cream served with an extra pour of Calvados. This baba au Calvados had the earthy warm flavours of quince, ginger and orange but still a lightness and brightness to it. Creating something with these ingredients and having it come together in this way really highlighted the talent that Chef Velez has.
Do you know what’s better than chocolate and orange? Chocolate, coffee and orange blossom water. The cocoa rocks on the plate are a delicacy in and of themselves. I could not write this chocolate dessert off (as a person who admittedly likes chocolate in candy bar form and bonbons but not typically as cake) but the orange blossom ice cream had me falling hard for the Café Epicé. The Café Epicé is a chocolate dacquoise, spiced coffee mousse, cocoa rocks, orange blossom ice cream.
Crème Brulée that shatters all expectations. There is a hazelnut powder, passionfruit confit, the best foam and pastry cream you may ever taste as well as an impeccable hazelnut ice cream.
Meyer Lemon Vacherin, which is a meringue filled with whipped cream (not to be confused with the cheese Vacherin). The matcha paper is more than just a sculptural element (so tasty and a perfect texture on your tongue). The candied rind of the meyer lemon contrasts perfectly with the sweet crunchy meringue and the pepper in the chantilly subtly adds a note of spice.
Blood orange, sesame custard, and thyme ice cream topped with this sesame and sugar sculpture was delectable. The sesame in the sugar doesn’t just look incredible. It tasted like a dessert of its own.