By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large
Dessert remains a favorite even for grownups. Roughly one third of guests order dessert when dining out. So it’s safe to say that many consumers can’t resist a sweet after dinner treat, especially when it’s in a mini portioned dessert.
Like appetizers and entrees, desserts are (and have always been) often dependent on the seasons. More restaurants are determining their menu solely based on the ingredients in season. Fall favorites like pumpkin and apple have already started to appear all over menus.
A restaurant known for its cuisine that is “homemade, unpretentious, delectable, with an emphasis on great local ingredients” is Michael’s Genuine. This Miami gem is repeatedly on the Foodable Top 25 restaurants.
We decided to get in the kitchen with Maria Jose (MJ) Garcia, the executive pastry chef at Michael’s Genuine to find out what ingredients she enjoys to work with, fan-favorites at MG, and what advice she has for aspiring pastry chefs.
Foodable: What do you love the most about being a pastry chef?
Chef MJ: There’s a few things. I love working with my team, teaching and grooming. Watching them grow as individuals, I enjoy that the most. Challenging ourselves. Learning how to use our different backgrounds and having fun.
Then also, getting to see people eat something and love it.
Foodable: What are your favorite ingredients to work with?
Chef MJ: I like licorice. I also like to work with things that remind me of my childhood or places I have been. When I am cooking, I like to reminisce the things of my childhood. At the end of the day, when people eat they want to reminisce the things they used to enjoy when they were little.
On a seasonal level, winter would be strawberries, oranges or anything citrus. In the summer, I love to work with stone fruit. In the fall, obviously apple. But, I also love quince (membrillo in Spanish) because the region where I am from, quince is a prominent fruit we see often with cheese platters. In a week or two weeks from now, we will be able to get quince.
Foodable: What are your favorite fall season desserts to prepare?
Chef MJ: Apple is that versatile ingredient that you can go extremely homey with, like homemade apple pies. But, quince is something I would love to work with more. It’s different for everyone. One of my assistants, loves persimmons and the other one loves pomegranate.
Foodable: What are the most popular desserts at Michael’s Genuine?
Chef MJ: It varies. Obviously, you have your chocolate-holics that will always go for the chocolate dessert. Chefs Brad’s favorite is the Rosemary Pine Nut Tarte, it’s elegant, mild and very much an adult dessert. Then you have the Apple Fritters, which is my favorite. It’s that fried item that just reminds me of my childhood.
Foodable: If you could only pick five ingredients to make a dessert, what would they be?
Chef MJ: Orange, strawberry, olive oil, almonds and vanilla. Nuts, in particular, always enhance, give flavor and give texture.
Foodable: What advice do you have for amateur pastry chefs just starting out?
Chef MJ: You’re going to burn a lot of cake and that’s okay! Keep being persistent. This industry requires a lot of work, work on yourself. Have the strength to be humble and keep working. Just make sure everything that you do is up to your standards and never compromising.
Someone becomes really good at something when they do it a lot of times. I have burnt a hundred cakes in order to make a really good cake. That’s how you make yourself better, if you keep challenging yourself every day.
Foodable: What are some of the dessert trends you are seeing emerge?
Chef MJ: We follow seasonality. American cuisine gives you a big spectrum to work with, you could go Italian, American, French. In terms of trends, I am seeing these California-style bakeries where it is all about method and well-executed desserts, even if it is just a pie. California/ the west coast has set a standard and there are a lot of restaurants that are seasonal now.
It’s interesting to see all these bakeries rising, especially in Florida, like True Loaf with the best bread ever. You see these bakeries that follow that seasonality and that method of doing things perfectly. But, the trend I see the most is sourcing out the best ingredients.