Of pastries and chocolate: The dish from top Gotham chef Johnny Iuzzini
Catskill native and Williamsburg transplant Johnny Iuzzini has taken the four-star food world by storm for the past two decades.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, the pastry chef has worked at the The River Café, Daniel, Payard, Café Boulud and Jean Georges, to name a few. In 1998, he studied pastry at some of the finest patisseries in France. He won the James Beard Foundation’s “Pastry Chef of the Year” in 2006, has been recognized as one of the “10 Most Influential Pastry Chefs in America” by Forbes and was the head judge on Bravo’s culinary competition series “Top Chef: Just Desserts.”
Now, Iuzzini has started his own pastry and culinary arts consulting company, Sugar Fueled, Inc. He is also the author of “Dessert Fourplay: Sweet Quartets From A Four-Star Pastry Chef.”
Johnny took some time to talk to us while he was hanging out with his farmer friends at the Union Square Farmer’s Market.
How did you get started in sweets? All my friends were caddies [growing up.] I was too young so I was the swamp rat and worked in the kitchen. I started competing in high school and went to New York to meet the River Café chef who hired me on the spot. My mother was a wildlife veterinarian. … So I’m a huge animal lover. At the River Club, I was killing lobsters and cutting the heads off lambs while the pastry chef was making butterflies out of chocolate. It was still too close for home, I was young and the killing bothered me. Pastries are a better outlet for me. … So, I switched from the culinary to the pastry program.
What’s it like being on TV? I had done a lot of TV when I was younger, I did food segments for the “Today” show and Martha Stewart, so I was familiar with all of that. When I was asked to judge “Top Chef: Just Desserts,” I was interested [because] it was the first time a pastry chef was on TV showing off the craft.
What’s your favorite medium to work in? I love chocolate more than working with sugar. I love all the seasonal fruit that’s coming out now too, like strawberries from the Farmers Market.
What’s your most devastating moment? When I was young, the head of the cake department at Payard made a lot of special occasion cakes and wedding cake orders. This [one] cake looked amazing, but I never took the plastic off the side of the cake and ruined the cake. Francois chased me around the kitchen. I ruined their wedding cake for over 200 people.
Who is your favorite chef? Who humbles me is Peasant owner Frankie De Carlo. He just wants to … make good food.
What are your favorite restaurants? Aldea [George Mendez’s restaurant]. Danny [Bowein] at Mission Chinese and Paul Liebrandte at Corton.
What’s your favorite bakery? Dominique Ansel.
What’s your personal style? I’m half country mouse/ half city mouse. I like the Rockabilly look. My background is half Italian, half French. I wear cowboy boots and jeans.
What’s your favorite hobby? My two Ducatis: Monster, MG4. I rode 7,400 miles on my own, and … chased the food legacy on the West Coast for Food and Wine magazine. I used social media and let the fanbase dictate where I ate.
What can’t you live without? My motorcycles, and mountains, chocolate and women.
What’s your favorite kind of chocolate? I prefer dark chocolate. I like French over Belgian …Valrhona is the best.
Where do you shop for food? Union Square Farmers Market, the Harvest store [in Williamsburg] or road side markets in the Catskills. “Take the honey, leave the money.” I love the honor system.