Alex Grunert, the pastry chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, seizes upon his Viennese upbringing in his ardent commitment to the restaurant’s “locavore” philosophy. Following a stint at the famed Hotel Inter-continental restaurant Vier Jahreszeite in Vienna, Alex sharpened his skills as a chocolate maker for the Austrian patisserie Oberlaa Konditorei. He then moved to New York City, where he seamlessly weaved his Austrian technique into the classic pastries at Bouley and Danube. As the executive pastry chef, he worked under David Bouley and learned of the importance of seasonal and local cooking, a philosophy that would follow him from the city to the farmlands of upstate New York. With an impressive supply of fresh produce and dairy at his fingertips from the restaurant’s farm, Alex Grunert conceives desserts that adhere to the restaurant’s signature concept of not a menu, but rather a list of seasonal ingredients that are left to the creativity of the kitchen. Try any of his peach pastries, which Grunert poaches in a wonderfully fruity olive oil and pairs with young ginger ice cream and a tangy passionfruit sauce.
Single, but in a relationship.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an animal doctor, a vet, but it was just my first stage of thinking. For the longest time I had no idea what I wanted to do. But my mother sat me down and we made a list of what I enjoyed, what I was capable of. I spent a lot of time helping my mother and grandmother in the kitchen. And that was it. We decided I should start my career in the kitchen.
What was your first job in food?
I was a trainee at the Intercontinental Hotel in Vienna. I peeled onions and washed lettuce. You know–how everyone needs to begin.
What did you learn from working with David Bouley at Danube?
Combinations of flavors.
How do you channel your Austrian upbringing into the recipes you create today?
I often start with classic desserts and cakes and work from there – adding and subtracting ingredients. But cake-wise, I am in the classic Austrian school.
You began your career at the Austrian restaurant Vier Jahreszeite. What were some of the most important lessons you took from your prestigious training?
My first chef convinced me that I should take every opportunity to learn from those around me. Okay, I was young and sometimes needed to be put in my place. He told me, “Learn, so you can make those around you happy.”
How have you incorporated your travels to Asia into your current, seasonal American menu?
I have, but it may not be noticeable to Blue Hill guests. The use of an herb or spice can help highlight a fruit or even a vegetable in a new way.
What is your favorite dessert on the menu at Blue Hill at Stone Barns?
Right now? Olive Oil Braised White Peach, Young Ginger Ice Cream and Passion Fruit
What is your least favorite (and yes, you must pick one)?
I wouldn’t serve something I didn’t enjoy.
What culinary trends do you embrace?
Well, obviously local. Being able to step outside the door and grab ingredients is exciting. But I don’t think it is a trend. Chefs really know what local farmers have to offer and we want more.
What culinary trends do you wish would just die already?
No culinary trend is bad as long as the chef is executing it well.
Any new projects on the horizon? Spill the beans…
Nothing right now. I am happy to be a part of Blue Hill.
Address: 630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, NY