Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 3: Jose Hernandez of Triniti and His Michelin-Worthy Desserts

Jose Hernandez Triniti 2815 South Shepherd Drive 713-527-9090

This is part three of my chef chat with Chef de Cuisine Jose Hernandez of Triniti. Parts one and two ran in this space in the last couple of days. We've been getting to know Chef Jose Hernandez of Triniti this week. From part one of our chat, we know that he was trained in the kitchen and that his background is in Viennese pastry. We also know that he's worked in a Michelin-rated restaurant and that he likes to read cookbooks, especially those by legendary pastry masters Pierre Hermé and François Payard.

Today we recount our sampling of five desserts off of Triniti's spring "Afters" menu, each one distinct, beautiful and absolutely delicious.

Let's start with the one that rocked my friend's world so much that it left her speechless. The deconstructed cheesecake was a study in colors, shapes, textures and smell. The smell was the most distinctive. Even before it hit the table, the luscious aroma of strawberry was intoxicating.

Small half-domes of cheesecake were placed artfully against small almond shortbread rounds, while vivid-red pieces of strawberry glass sat carefully erected like miniature backdrops of color. The strawberry sorbet was icy-cold and simple perfection, heightened in flavor by the fresh strawberries and strawberry foam. But above and beyond the visual perfection was the absolute perfection in taste. I can't describe it any other way except to say that it was Michelin star-worthy, and a must-try if you go to Triniti.

Next up was the chocolate cigar, which looked exactly like a chocolate cigar, only bigger. A chocolate tuile had been shaped into a small tube, which was filled with tobacco-smoked chocolate mousse and topped with an 18-carat gold leaf. At one end, toasted black sesame had been ground to look like cigar ash, with a fresh scoop of house-made bourbon ice cream at the other end. The brilliance of this dessert is not just in the way that it was constructed to mimic a cigar, but in the smoked tobacco flavors. The chocolate had to be infused with the flavor of smoke for two hours to achieve this taste.

The chocolate gel, with popcorn ice cream and caramelized popcorn, made with flourless chocolate biscuit, was also delightful. The fact that no flour was used did not detract from my enjoyment of this dessert in the slightest. The chocolate gel was a bit thicker than a panna cotta, less dense than a traditional cake, but very smooth and creamy.

Hernandez's coconut panna cotta was another gluten-free dessert that was not only beautiful but fun. The panna cotta sat in the bottom of a glass cup, while a scoop of ice cream sat on top of a thin white chocolate round, which you had to break to get to the panna cotta inside. Using the spoon to crack the chocolate kind of reminded me of breaking a soufflé apart. When the chocolate cracked, it kind of just fell into the cup with the ice cream, and when you mixed everything together -- white chocolate, coconut ice cream, shaved toasted coconut flakes, mango/pineapple compote and panna cotta -- it was absolutely divine.

And last but not least was the peanut butter-chocolate-banana dessert, this one a study on triangles and rounds. Fresh round banana slices were coated with a just-torched layer of caramelized sugar, while a large chocolate-peanut butter cake tasted like any Reese's Peanut Butter Cup junkie's answer to heaven. Fresh banana ice cream finished off yet another stellar dessert creation.

All of the desserts at Triniti are $9, and well worth every penny. I love the restraint that Hernandez uses in his creations. Nothing is overly sweet or large, and each is a work of art that is not only beautiful to look at but to taste. You can see the passion and care in each little detail -- a crisped texture, a round shape, a juxtaposition of colors, an artful arrangement...

The mark of a true artist is not just creating one masterpiece, but creating a portfolio of them that shows progression and maturity over time. Hernandez does just that. Just when you think it can't get better, he'll wow you with something new.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham