The last two days, we've been chatting with pastry chef Chris Leung, one of the partners in the soon-to-be-open Restaurant conāt, about how he got into the pastry world, where he honed his technique, and how he comes up with a new dessert.
Today, we'll taste some his creations, which from conception to design are nothing short of culinary works of art.
We started with a beautiful plate of whites, pale greens, and pale apricot colors. Made of fossilized sweet potato, which had a crisp on the outside but was soft in the inside, coconut cheesecake, cilantro foam, frozen cream cheese powder, coconut toast and caramel lychee sorbet, this was a dessert that could make anyone swoon.
Some desserts are overly sweet and require coffee or milk to wash it down, but this one was just lightly sweet perfection. The portion was just enough to make you want more, and the combination of flavors and textures, not to mention the icy cold temperature of the sorbet, had me wanting to lick the plate. Definitely one of my memorable When Harry Met Sally-making-noises-in-the-diner-type moments.
Next came a deceptively simple-looking small slice of roulade, a scoop of ice cream, a piece of fresh mint, some purplish/black powder. I say deceptive because it involved a veritable cornucopia of ingredients and techniques. Leung used every portion of the pomelo to make this dish -- pomelo pith compressed in maple, pomelo zest made into vinaigrette, and individual pomelo cells to enhance the moist and fluffy mint-cream roulade. Black sesame cream, black sesame powder, and maple rum sorbet finished off yet another plate-lickable dessert.
For the finale, Leung says he spent five hours to make a shiny, glazed cake, described as a traditional entremet. In the middle of the cake was tonka bean panna cotta, fennel cream, caramel lemon curd, chocolate mousse and sambuca sponge cake. On the bottom was a crispy yeast streusel. The entire cake was finished with a glossy dark chocolate glaze, so glossy that it acted like a shiny dark brown mirror.
Leung said that even though he doesn't do them often, he really loves making these types of desserts, loves the glossy shell, the overall effect. You could tell it was a labor of love. The sweetest of the three desserts I tasted, this very French creation was like a thick, creamy chocolate mousse, with a surprise crisp and a melange of complementing flavors. It was decadent, smooth, crispy, creamy, sweet, chocolaty, heavenly wonderfulness for a chocolate lover.
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Beyond enjoying the desserts I tasted, what crystallized in my mind after chatting with Leung was this: Of all the pastries being created in Houston today, Leung's is hands-down the most creative. By using a blend of skill and out-of-the-box thinking, Leung's desserts are as thought-provoking as they are complex and delicious. His modern style and use of Modernist techniques transform what would otherwise be a mish-mash of ordinary ingredients into something sweetly extraordinary. In his hands, a throw-away ingredient like hay became the centerpiece of a prize-winning hay sorbet.
And yet, he's still learning, stretching himself so that he can hone his craft. This week, you might find him at Kata Robata, staging under Executive Chef Manabu Horiuchi and working with ingredients like live sea urchin (uni). Next week, who knows? Maybe he'll do some mind-blowing spin on a savory sushi ingredient and turn it into an incredible one-of-a-kind dessert. Knowing Leung, he could definitely do it.