DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Styleby David Guas, Raquel Pelzel
A city rich in food diversity, New Orleans is as much a city of banana cream pie as it is crawfish boil. In DamGoodSweet, pastry chef David Guas and food writer Raquel Pelzel delve into the rich fabric of the home-style sweets of New Orleans and its surrounding area. Through 50 amazing desserts, from traditional beignets, red velvet cake, and pralines to the lesser… See more details below
A city rich in food diversity, New Orleans is as much a city of banana cream pie as it is crawfish boil. In DamGoodSweet, pastry chef David Guas and food writer Raquel Pelzel delve into the rich fabric of the home-style sweets of New Orleans and its surrounding area. Through 50 amazing desserts, from traditional beignets, red velvet cake, and pralines to the lesser-known Roman chewing candy and calas fried rice cakes, Guas and Pelzel transport cooks from their home kitchens into the giant dessert gumbo that is New Orleans. Through instructional and anecdotal headnotes, plenty of great tips, and fun stories, DamGoodSweet is completely dedicated to the pastries and desserts of a unique American city.
- Taunton Press, Incorporated
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Read an Excerpt
I was no angel growing up in New Orleans, a city that caters more to debauchery than to chastity. At the ripe old age of 14 I'd break out of my bedroom window and sneak into the garage to "borrow" my dad's car, coasting in neutral until I was midway down the block before daring to turn on the ignition. I had a fake ID and routinely snuck off my high school's campus. I'd lie to my parents, fight with my sister, and be an all-around punk of a kidand when I pushed mom and dad too far, they'd send me to Aunt Boo's in Abbeville, three hours west of New Orleans, where I could, according to Aunt Boo, have some good, clean fun and gain back my righteousness by making roux.
At Aunt Boo's house, the kitchen was sacred. It wasn't fancy, dressed up with polished copper pots and the like; it was functional. She had a few time-honored and blackened cast iron pots and skillets that she used for her gumbos and étouffées, a few baking pans, and a hard-working oven. I'd enter the kitchen and find her at the stove, a wooden spoon in one hand, a cold beer in the other, stirring up a pot of something that smelled so amazing I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I took comfort in her kitchen, a place of order and rules that were not broken under any circumstances. She was the master and I her apprentice. It was my first taste of kitchen hierarchy.
Together, Aunt Boo and I made classic Louisiana dishes like shrimp Creole and a spicy redfish and tomato stew called coubeyon (say it: coo-BE-yawn with a silent "n" at the end). She taught me how to blacken fish, whip up her Nana's old-school banana bread, and make my first roux. Heck, she even gave me my first cast iron pan. The most important lesson that I learned from her was that there's a time for fun, and a time to be serious, and cooking good, honest food was a serious matter. It was in her kitchen that the seeds for my future as a chef were sown.
I got my first break as a pastry chef at the age of 11, when I was hired to make sno-balls (New Orleans-style shaved ice) at an old storage room that had been converted into a sno-ball stand on Chef Menteur Highway. It was the first time I ever made something that other people paid to eat. Little did I know this was the beginning of my career in desserts.
After high school, I went to college and was home within two yearsthe party-going New Orleanian in me came out, and my studies suffered. I got a job slinging steak in a cheesesteak shop and quickly climbed the ranks from grill cook to manager. Once again, I discovered how satisfying it was to make other people happy. Making cheesesteaks wasn't glamorous, but it pointed me in the right direction: culinary school.
I was looking through the paper one day and saw an ad for Sclafani Cooking School in Metairie. All of a sudden it clickedI knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. I learned about mother sauces, stocks, consommés, and how to season food; the whole pastry session wasat mostthree days long!
When I went looking for a job, I started with Gerard Crozier, one of the premiere French chefs in the city. He hired me to work at his restaurant, but a few days later unhired me because the person whose job I was taking changed her mind. It was a tough break but actually a lucky one, too, because a few days later I went for an interview in the best kitchen in all of New Orleans, at the Windsor Court Hotel. I applied for a job in the savory kitchen, but the only department hiring was pastry, so I interviewed for a job there with the executive pastry chef, Kurt Ebert, a master pastry chef from Germany. He wasn't too impressed with me, but I convinced him to hire me. It changed my life.
On my first day I got a crash course in how to hold a pastry bag by piping meringue onto 400 lemon tartlets, and I learned how to use a dough sheeter by making a seemingly never-ending supply of spicy cheese straws. I didn't catch my breath for nearly two years. Jeff Tunks, the Windsor's executive chef, would come to the pastry department in the basement and we'd shoot it for hours, him perched on a few 50-pound bags of flour and me piping, whisking, kneading, and rolling. He spoke elusively about a project he was involved with in Washington, D.C. He had his goons (a term I use lovingly to describe his sous-chefs), Cliff and Linton, take me out for billiards and Buds® and ask me all kinds of hypothetical questions, like would I leave town if the right job came along? I guess I answered the questions right because in February of 1998, I packed up and left New Orleans for the nation's capital to open a restaurant that would be known as DC Coast and to serve as its executive pastry chef.
Within seven years I had helped to open three more restaurants: TenPenh, Ceiba, and Acadiana, with me being the head of pastry for the whole family. To get inspiration for TenPenh, I went to Indonesia to learn about Southeast Asian sweets for the dessert menu. For Ceiba, a Cuban-influenced restaurant, I tapped into my Cuban heritage (my dad was born in Havana, though his mother is a native Louisianan) and traveled to Miami to hang with my Cuban cousins. I revisited the desserts I loved best from my hometown when I compiled recipes for the Louisiana-influenced menu at Acadiana. It opened just twelve days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.
The neighborhoods I grew up in, New Orleans East (a part of the Ninth Ward), and my parents? home in Lakeview were nearly erased by Hurricane Katrina. It hit me hard. After Katrina, I was inundated with memories of New Orleans. It was then I knew I had to record and preserve not only the dessert recipes of the region but my memories, too.
DamGoodSweet is the culmination of these efforts. About two years ago I left my DC Coast family to start my own consulting business. And soon I will be opening my own bakeshop, where I'll showcase the flavors of New Orleans and the surrounding region.
Whether due to Katrina or for other reasons, like new real estate developments or older proprietors who choose to retire, many of New Orleans's institutions, including Lawrence's Bakery (also called Mr. Wedding Cake) in Gentilly on Elysian Fields Avenue and McKenzie's next to the A&PSM in New Orleans East, have faded away. But many are thriving, like Hansen's, Hubig's, and Clancy's.
Writing this cookbook is a way for me to celebrate the restaurants, bakeries, and sweet shops that remain and thrive in New Orleans as well as to keep alive the traditions of long-gone institutions. DamGoodSweet is for my family, friends, and anyone who holds dear the traditions and institutions of this unique city.
Meet the Author
Raised in New Orleans, David Guas is the former Executive Pastry Chef for four of Passion Food Hospitality’s restaurants. In 2004, Guas was awarded the title of Pastry Chef of the Year by the Washington Restaurant Association. He is currently a consultant to restaurants and restaurant groups with his firm DamGoodSweet. David has appeared on The Today Show. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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