Groundbreaker: A tribute for 'stellar contributions' to sugar arts *and* healthy eating...
White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses has been honored with the September 2012 'Silver Spoon' award from Food Arts magazine, a monthly shout-out for top culinary pros. Popularly known for being President Obama's favorite pie maker, Yosses is a French-trained chef who left a stellar private practice to serve his country, joining the White House staff at the tail end of the second Bush Administration. He's being honored "for his stellar contributions to the culinary profession as a groundbreaking American pastry chef, a staunch advocate for healthful food choices, and a generous mentor." (Above: Cooking with the First Lady)
Yosses is an enthusiastic ambassador for First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, and also has a big side career as a public speaker on food science; he'll be lecturing at Harvard on Sept. 17, and it's open to the public. Some of his recipes are included in the First Lady's book American Grown, and all from the White House can be found on the sidebar of this blog.
The Crust Master discussed his career trajectory--studded with bold-face names from the culinary world--with Food Arts, which noted his undergraduate and graduate degrees in French Literature from Rutgers University, as well as "a stint with Air France in New York City" and a degree in hospitality management:
"At my first job in a small restaurant, going to Rungis with the chef at four a.m. to select fresh vegetables and fish,” Yosses recalls, “really gave me the love for food.” Meanwhile, the delectable cakes at Fauchon and Le Nôtre piqued his interest in pastry.
Yosses returned to Manhattan as garde-manger at Roger Vergé’s Polo Lounge, alongside future luminaries Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, then shuttled back and forth to France for apprenticeships in Michelin-starred restaurants. He signed on as pastry chef at Montrachet, Drew Nieporent’s catalytic cradle of American/French cuisine in TriBeCa, in 1985, to work with chef David Bouley, then joined Bouley when he opened his own breakthrough restaurant. “It was a pivotal time,” Yosses remembers, “when American chefs, who, by the way, were all trained in France, were moving into top positions. But there was still a French accent on our desserts. What was different was the way we were sourcing local ingredients and finding the best purveyors.”
After almost 20 years with Bouley, Yosses moved on to Joseph’s Citarella in midtown Manhattan in 2001, where the dessert accent skewed American with cobblers, tarts, and Yosses’ signature warm vanilla cake, a playful take on the ubiquitous molten chocolate version. The recipe is included in his recent book, The Perfect Finish.
When the White House beckoned in 2007, Yosses was in Connecticut helping chef Michel Nischan open Paul Newman’s Dressing Room, a restaurant devoted to promoting locally sourced food, and pursuing his commitment to children’s nutritional programs such as Days of Taste, a predecessor of Michele Obama’s Chefs Move to Schools, and Spoons Across America. “Education is the part I love,” says Yosses, who now harvests vegetables with school groups in Mrs. Obama’s kitchen garden—that is, if he is not concocting a towering layer cake for a dinner celebrating Pope Benedict XVI’s birthday, baking 20,000 Christmas cookies, or rolling crust for an Obama family pie. (The president has dubbed him “the crust master.”)
Yosses has immersed himself in the history of the presidential residence. “I love the house,” he admits. “I feel as if it’s a human being—a living thing—and I like to share it with people.” Sharing is a Yosses mantra. His latest extracurricular venture, after an elBulli immersion shortly before its closure, is lecturing at Harvard University on modernist cuisine.
“Because cooking really does lead to everything else,” he notes, “our knowledge of food puts us in a privileged position to be leaders, and chefs have a responsibility to share what they know with others.”
*Top photo by Quentin Bacon, courtesy of Crown Publishing, reprinted from American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America by Michelle Obama. Copyright © 2012 by the National Park Foundation. Published by Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. Second photo from Food Arts.