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Q & A With Josh Gripper
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Q & A With Josh Gripper

Pastry chef Josh Gripper has most recently garnered attention for his dazzling creations at A Voce, a prominent Italian newcomer on New York’s dining scene. A native New Yorker, Gripper jump-started his career as a child baking for his family in Queens.  Upon graduating from the New York Art Institute, Josh joined the opening team at downtown Butter, but left soon after to work at Cafe Boulud where he first met chef Andrew Carmellini.

He would later team up with Carmellini again at A Voce.  Though this Flatiron destination is often praised for its duck meatballs and homemade pastas, Gripper delivers equally as flavorful desserts, including the “Bomboloni alla Toscana,” Tuscan doughnuts with chocolate sauce, and buttermilk panna cotta with roasted pineapple and basil sorbetto.

Status: Single/Married/Divorced
Single and dangerous

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was either going to be a dance
hall DJ or an investment banker.

What was your first job in food?
Java and Jazz Coffee shop on 18th
and Broadway. I was making soups and sandwiches. It closed down 5 or so years
ago.

Growing up in Queens,
you helped your mom cook and bake for family and holiday gatherings. What favorite recipes do you attribute to
your childhood?

Pina Colada Cheesecake and My Grandmother’s
Sweet Potato Pie were some of the staples. Other than that I helped make hearty
old school southern food (mac and cheese, collard greens with ham hocks etc.)

You were a team member for the opening crew
at downtown hotspot Butter, but stayed
for less than a year, relocating to Café
Boulud
. Why such a quick switch?

Honestly, I didn’t know what Café Boulud was
when I was at Butter, but the pastry chef at the time left Butter to go be the
pastry chef at Café Boulud and took me with him. He didn’t stay very long and
he left while AC (Andrew Carmellini)
was in Japan doing a special dinner. I called Andrew to tell him I was quitting also. I got
a hold of him at 4AM Tokyo time and woke him up. He was pissed at first,
but he calmed me down and I ended up staying and working with Eric Bertoia for
3 years. Eric is awesome and I would say he is my mentor.

You spent time in France working at the Michelin two-star
restaurant Oustau de Baumanniere in
Provence.  How did this experience influence your
talents in pastry?

One of the most interesting
aspects of the stage was seeing how I measured up against cooks that were
trained in France.  The experience made me more confident and sure of my actions. The pastry chef
really went out of his way to make sure I saw all there was to see, and let me
get my hands into everything.

In 2006 you were
internally promoted to Pastry Chef at another Boulud restaurant, db bistro moderne. Was this leadership position a smooth
transference, or do the Boulud restaurants vary from kitchen to kitchen?

I was sous chef at Café Boulud
before I went to DB so I had some time as a leader before I took the DB job. I’m
glad I did that first because DB is crazy busy and the kitchen space is small.
You need to be organized and work fast to bang it out. I think all of the
Boulud restaurants function in very different ways. The difference between DB
Bistro, Café Boulud, and Daniel are night and day, but each spot is busy,
intense, hardcore cooking. If you enter with a strong mindset, the potential to
grow is there.

Now Pastry Chef at A Voce, you are working again with
Andrew Carmellini (Executive Chef), with whom you began your career at Café Boulud. Was this project conceived back then? 

When AC left Café
Boulud, he really wasn’t talking much about what he was doing, and to be honest
with you, I wasn’t ready to go that route yet. There was some talk that he
“stole” a lot of people but that’s not really true. A lot of old Café people
are at A Voce but that’s because there’s a strong focus on quality and education.
My 2 years at DB as the pastry chef prepped me to go out on my own outside of
the Dinex Group. Anyway, AC and I are friends and we always would hang out and
stay in touch.

Were you involved in
the design of any other elements at A Voce outside of the pastry menu?

No, I’ve been extremely focused on the dessert menu and
bringing the pastry program up to a level that matches the food served at A
Voce. There have been many occasions where I would go out to dinner and had
food that was straightforward and tasty. Then I order dessert and it looks like
a science project gone bad. I’m not a chemist, just a guy from Jamaica (Queens)
making really good desserts. 

Do you prefer Italian
desserts to French?

I feel re-energized
making Italian pastries. What’s left to do with French desserts that hasn’t
been done already? As far as technique goes, once you master the basics the way
they’re applied is interchangeable. I think I’ll be having fun exploring Italy for a while.  We’ve been taking these trips to Arthur Avenue Brooklyn and eating things like cassata, baba’s and sfogliatelle to kind of bridge the gap between the Italian American and the Italian thing.
 

What are your
favorite seasonal additions to your menu?

Right now is not the
best time for pastry chefs only because there’s less fruit to work with than in
the spring and summer. But the winter menu is as tasty as ever. I’m currently
serving a chocolate-pear coppa which is caramel anise poached pear, chocolate
budino (pudding), coffee gelato, and anise granita arranged in a rocks glass.
The Apple Cheesecake Tart (also very good) is served with pistachio pesto,
cherry-brandy gelato, roasted apples and lemon cheesecake.

What’s your favorite
dessert on A Voce’s menu, and why?

My favorite dessert is
the bombaloni, Tuscan doughnuts. It’s light and airy. The aroma’s irresistible.
You won’t find one that tastes the same in  New York City.

What’s your least
favorite dessert (and yes, you must pick one)?

I think my least favorite dessert is the apple cheesecake
tart. Only because it’s a no-brainer for the customer. It’s straight up. Well
executed and tastes great. There are no hidden tricks or surprises in this one. 

What is your junk
food of choice?

Jack and Coke.

Other than your own,
what’s your favorite restaurant in NYC?

After work I like to go out eat, drink, wind down and
relax. Often I end up on the Lower East Side at Inoteca. It’s not fussy and I always have a good time.

What culinary trend
do you most embrace?

I’m not really into
trends. So I guess the one I embrace the most is being yourself.

What trend do you
wish would die already?

Foams.  I don’t know how much more flavored air I can eat.

What’s next on the
horizon for you? Any new ventures or
restaurants in the works? Spill the
beans…

I don’t know what’s
going on. AC is not talking but I see a bunch of afternoon meetings with guys I
don’t know in suits and blueprints. I think a lot of chefs he worked for in the
past talked about a lot of plans and they never happened so he’s cautious about
hyping stuff up. In the mean time I’m drawing up my own blue prints for the A
Voce pastry program. I also plan to spend time in Japan
and Italy
in the fall.

Address: 41 Madison Ave. at 26th St.
Phone:
(212)545-8555

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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