Devising Crescendo Endings
Let us now praise famous pastry chefs. Sure, those white-hatted culinary wizards who make the savory appetizers and hearty entrees get all the credit, but let's be honest: What does the diner (if not the dentist) look forward to most if not the imminent arrival of the dessert tray? In her upcoming class, "Cooking with Jamie Martin," the pastry chef at Cafe Annie will show you how to make restaurant-quality sweets in your own kitchen.

"I try to give them a feel of what we do here," Martin says. She'll concentrate on teaching how to make a summer berry shortcake (with Absolut Kurant sauce and a sweet mascarpone cream that's "pretty deadly") and a strawberry and Grand Marnier sorbet. Seasonality is a main concern when making desserts, and summertime, of course, is berry time. "They're not quite as pretty as they have been, because of the drought in California," she concedes, but says that shouldn't dampen the adventurous culinary spirit. "I really encourage [experimentation]. There's never any way to run out of combinations in trying things. Some people are afraid of cooking, but you are going to make mistakes. Fortunately, a lot of those mistakes are edible." She points to the chocolate chip cookie, which she says was invented simply because a woman forgot to melt the chocolate first, and threw it in the mix later.

And while diners will often pass on the dessert tray after stuffing themselves with filet mignon or pasta drenched in tomato-and-meat sauce ("I'm trying to diet, you know?"), Martin says you can find a happy medium with the after-meal treat -- calories be damned. "I don't necessarily do a light dessert, but I believe in cooking light without taking all the fat out," she says. "For instance, the shortcake kind of melts in your mouth, so it has a light feeling to it."

Martin, who has been at Cafe Annie for almost three years, says she has always cooked. "My mom let me in the kitchen growing up. And because she was making dinner, I got to make the dessert," she remembers. She came to Houston after working as a cake decorator through college (where she got a degree in -- of all things -- accounting), and later attended the California Culinary Institute before working a year in Europe. But we wondered, does the dessert chef ever feel inferior on the gastronomic totem pole to those who whip up the main dishes?

"No, I don't think so. Because the dessert is the last thing they see, and everybody enjoys it," Martin concludes. "So I think that the chefs who make them are a pretty loved crowd."

-- Bob Ruggiero

"Cooking with Jamie Martin," Tuesday, August 25 at 6:30 p.m. at Rice Epicurean Cooking School, 6425 San Felipe. $35. 954-2152.


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