Q & A With Richard Leach
Most pastry chefs tweak their menu once a year. Richard Leach entirely dramatically reconceives his every three months. At Park Avenue Spring, this seasonal American restaurant gets a full makeover every time the temperatures change. But Richard has been embracing the seasons well before his position at PAS. He spent time in pastry at Aureole and Lespinasse, which earned him the James Beard Award in 1997 for Pastry Chef of the Year. In 2001, Leach published his cookbook Sweet Seasons: Fabulous Restaurant Desserts Made Simple, which invited amateur bakers to create his delicate desserts at home.
From the launch of Park Avenue Autumn this past fall 2007, then onto Winter and now into Park
Avenue Spring, Leach has given guests an array of festive desserts to
end on the perfect seasonal note. Signature desserts of this season
include the crème fraîche cheesecake in phyllo, raspberries & hibiscus flower milk and the chocolate brûlée and parfait, with malted milk, kinako
& chocolate crumbs.
I am married with two
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I liked music and
wanted to become a drummer.
What was your first job in food?
I started working
around food as a dishwasher when I was fourteen. It was a small family-run Armenian
restaurant. When there was nothing to be
cleaned, I would help out with the food prep. So when the alcoholic chef got fired, the owner asked me if I wanted to
give it a try. I was sixteen and would work after school as the night chef. The
owner would cook at lunch and then I would come in do all the butchering, prep
and service while he waited on the customers. We would do anywhere from 30 to
120 a night. Good fun.
You’ve worked in many prominent kitchens, including
Lespinasse and La Cote Basque. What was your most memorable experience?
The most memorable
time was definitely when I first became the pastry chef at Aureole. I was 24 and figuring the whole thing out on my own. I created my own style
there and really started to draw a lot of press towards it. I developed a
strong reputation there, which launched my career in pastry.
Having worked in two decidedly French restaurants, do you
think you take a French approach to pastries?
I always thought of Lespinasse
as more global than French; Kunz has many influences from all over. My desserts
are kind of mix of things too, so it worked. As for La Cote Basque, they were interested in doing something new.
You worked at Park Avenue
Café before its dramatic transformation to a seasonal restaurant that literally
changes both its décor and menu four times a year. What was that transition like for you, and
how has it changed the desserts you create?
The Park Avenue project has been really interesting because the concept
fits in so well with the style I have developed. Each season, there are so many
great fruits to feature, it has been great to review my best ideas from over the
years and highlight some great dishes. Also, I now make new breads every season which has been a welcomed change. In
the past, menu changes have always been worked in gradually throughout a season,
but now we do it all on the same day, which involves a great deal of training
for both the cooks as well as the waitstaff.
You published a book entitled “Sweet Seasons,” long before
the transformation of the restaurant. Tell us how you became so fascinated with designing according to the
season even before it was fashionable?
Following the seasons
is the way I learned to cook and is also the way I like to eat. I always
associate certain foods with specific times of the year. It just makes sense;
fruits and vegetables peak at different times of the year.
What’s your favorite dessert in the book?…
The Ricotta Brulee
with walnuts and sage.
What are your favorite desserts on the spring menu?
The Milk Chocolate
Brulee and Parfait with Malted Milk, Kinako and Chocolate crumbs. I tried to
come up with a lighter chocolate dessert for spring and always wanted to do
something with Kinako. It works well with the malted milk.
What’s your least favorite dessert (and yes, you must pick
The Rhubarb Trio, but
only because it is going to be a nightmare to prepare. I serve it in a very
thin tall glass that’s very delicate. Don’t get me wrong, it tastes great.
What is your junk food of choice?
Fries or Cool Ranch
Other than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in
Lately I have been
going to a small place called Yakitori Torys on 52nd. I like to eat at the bar
and watch the cooks. The have some a great mix of small dishes, great yakitori
and the serve some odd chicken parts.
What culinary trend do you most embrace?
I like to look at all
culinary trends and adapt bits and pieces from them. I think I pay more
attention to technique trends rather than style trends. I like some of the
molecular techniques and ingredients that have been coming around. There are
some great ways to incorporate a different element texture to a plate.
What trend do you wish would die already?
Over use of molecular
cuisine can be too much. I appreciate the techniques more when they are blended
in with others.
What’s next on the horizon for you? Any new ventures or
restaurants in the works? Spill the
Avenue Summer is coming
up in late May! Other than that, I have been thinking about what the next phase
of my career will be. Stay tuned.
Address: 100 E. 63rd St. Btwn. Lexington & Park Ave
Until we eat again,
**Don’t forget to subscribe for Restaurant Girl’s Weekly Newsletter**