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Q & A With Nicole Kaplan

Chef Nicole Kaplan does not mess around in the kitchen: she’s played with the big boys in the NYC dining scene, toting her talents in pastry at Danny Meyer’s Eleven Madison Park, and now, Mario Batali’s Del Posto.  Ranked as one of the top pastry chefs in the country by Chocolatier Magazine and Pastry Art & Design, we’re grateful she changed her mind on becoming a flutist.  Currently, she is creating some of the city’s sweetest sensations at Batali’s Meatpacking locale.  Signature desserts include millefoglie di lamponi- a Napolean of local raspberries, Tahitian vanilla ice cream, ice wine granita and raspberry-rose gelato as well as budino di cioccolato – a chocolate pudding with chocolate streusel and whipped cream.

Status: Single/Married/Divorced
Married with 2 little boys

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A Broadway singer.

How did you get into food?
I was working as a classical musician(flutist), and wanted to go to cooking school. Of course I was pretty poor, so I started staging in exchange for free tuition. I wound up being at school all the time when I was not on tour and was pretty easily convinced to enter into the professional program. By the time I graduated, I knew I was giving up music.  I started full-time in pastry the day after graduation and never looked back.

What was your first job in food?
Technically, it was at Carvel during summers in college as the day manager. I was, however, terrified of the chocolate dip; I dropped 9 out of 10 cones in. I worked at Sign of the Dove in the pastry department when I was in cooking school. After that, my first real job was at Osteria del Circo. I started right after I graduated and worked my way up to sous chef.

Not many people make the transition from playing the flute at Carnegie Hall to a pastry chef…what was the impetus behind the career change?
I really loved cooking and being at culinary school. Music was a pretty solitary career; lots of hours in the practice room by yourself. I just didn’t have the passion and dedication necessary. It turns out that I had that passion for cooking instead.

After traveling the globe and graduating from culinary school, what do you think it was about sweets versus savories that spoke to you?
I realized that I didn’t like to smell cooking meat or to touch raw stuff like fish. I think it was the dreaded smell of veal stock that sent me over the edge. Plus I am really more of the analytical mindset so I appreciate the exactness and science of pastry over the freedom of cooking.

How did you end up in the Danny Meyer fold at Eleven Madison Park?
I had eaten there and been fascinated by the place. I was lucky that they were excited by the chefs I had worked with and wanted to interview me.

Not an easy feat for any chef, especially pastry, you managed to make waves, earning significant recognition at Eleven Madison Park.  What inspired your menu there?
I think it was just a great fit for me. Kerry and I both appreciated the same things, we both had very American palates with French technique. I felt like I was able to make the food that I loved to eat and it was appreciated and supported.

I encountered an apple cake with bacon while you were there…how did you imagine that unlikely and yet brilliant pairing?
“Norma’s” made this amazing cheesy stuffed brioche French toast with bacon and maple syrup. I just wanted to make something that reminded me of that dish.

How could we forget that you even conspired on The Shake Shack’s sweets…however do you get the custard so divinely creamy? What’s the secret?
Custard is pretty similar to French style ice cream. Lots of eggs and cream, all the stuff that makes it delicious.

What inspired you to make the switch from French-bent New American to channeling Italian at Del Posto?
Eating way too much tiramisu from Whole Foods, it was time to make my own.

What’s your favorite dessert on Del Posto’s menu right now?
Budino di cioccolato.  It’s basically chocolate pudding, chocolate fudge, chocolate streusel and whipped cream served with the best almond chocolate chip biscotti.

What’s your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?
On my menu? I would have to say the baba with apricots and blackberries; I am unfortunately horribly allergic to lots of stone fruits so it just sits there and torments me. In real life, it’s squid.

What is your junk food of choice?
Ring Dings.

What are your favorite three restaurant go-to’s in NYC?
Wing Wong in Chinatown, Men Kui Tei, a Japanese noodle shop by our house, and Blue Smoke. We love places that are child-friendly, yet we still can eat well.

What culinary trend do you most embrace?
Old school, classic technique.

What trend do you wish would die already?

What’s next on the horizon for you? Any new ventures or restaurants in the works? Spill the beans…
Nothing to report.

Phone: 212.497.8090
Address: 85 10th Ave., nr. 15th St.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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