Summertime Sweets from an Executive Pastry Chef
Executive pastry chef Patricia Morton has a creative array of summer desserts on Restaurant August's summer menu.
Executive pastry chef Patricia Morton of Restaurant August in New Orleans, John Besh’s flagship fine dining restaurant, is working on a host of summer desserts that exhibit her imaginative flair for flavor fusion and showcase her creative talents at one of the most exciting restaurants in the country.
A few of her ideas for the season include the following desserts:
- Summer Harvest: Whipped corn mousse, puffed soybeans coated in local sticky honey, fresh soybeans and popcorn infused ice cream
- Louisiana blackberries and balsamic: Stewed blackberries with a fresh ricotta cake, black pepper crispies, fiore di latte ice cream drizzled with aged balsamic (12 year from Modena, Italy)
- Rootbeer "Floating Island”: Homemade sassafras tea/soda, vanilla pavlova meringue, white chocolate pudding, cherries and cherry lambic beer dippin dots
Morton has emerged on the national scene as an influential pastry chef and rising star. Her path to New Orleans has been full of surprises. At just 15 years old, she started working at several homemade ice cream shops, during which this Columbus, Ohio native discovered her passion for dessert. While working for a local bakery, her love of all things pastry intensified, so she enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, now known as ICC.
After school, Morton worked at a bakery and for a catering company. Then she met chef Andrea Bucheli who hired her on the spot for her first restaurant job at Parlor Steak and Fish. As destiny would have it, Morton visited New Orleans for a wedding and instantly knew she belonged in the Big Easy.
Upon arrival in 2011, Morton started as a pastry cook at Restaurant August for chef Kelly Fields, who has been her mentor ever since. Two years later, she became her sous chef. Under Fields' tutelage, Morton continued to grow and learned the ins and outs of running a pastry kitchen. In 2015 she took over the pastry department at Restaurant August, upholding the standards and ethics that the restaurant was built upon.
Bake magazine reached out to this creative pastry chef to share her thoughts on what inspires her and drives Morton to succeed.
What is your background in pastry and how did you get to where you are today?
“My first job was at a homemade ice cream shop in Columbus, Ohio at 15 years old. My second job was also in an ice cream shop that specialized in Indian ice cream flavors. At the time, I didn’t know that pastry was what I wanted to do or even something I could do.”
“At the end of high school, in the 12th grade, I had to switch over to home schooling because of health complications. I found myself watching all of the daytime cooking shows on TV, which lead me to learn and play with techniques and flavors on my own.”
“As I started getting more serious about cooking, I found myself working for a bakery and getting my hands on anything from producing pies or cookies to hand decorating buttercream cakes. This particular bakery job solidified my desire to focus on Pastry Arts. That’s when I decided to go to the International Culinary Center (formerly FCI).”
“Upon graduating I found myself working random jobs for a short time while I was still holding onto the idea of working at bakeries. Luckily, I moved on from the odd-jobs and found myself staging for Andrea Butcheli at Parlor steak and Fish. Parlor was my first official restaurant job and Chef Andrea really took a chance on me. With patience, she molded me into a more efficient pastry chef within a restaurant setting.”
“My husband and I ended up visiting New Orleans for a wedding and fell in love with the city. We decided to pick up and move there six months later. Although we didn’t have jobs secured at the time, we were both determined to work at Restaurant August, which ultimately transpired.”
“I had the immense pleasure of working with many talented people, including Chef Kelly Fields who mentored me along the way. Under Chef Kelly’s tutelage I grew and learned the ins and outs of the Pastry Kitchen with high, unbending standards. As a result, I was able to take over Restaurant August’s Pastry program at the end of 2014.”
What is your current job and responsibilities?
“I oversee all aspects of Restaurant August’s pastry department which includes seasonal menu and recipe development, costing, scheduling, ordering, management, etc. I am also starting to work on menu development for a few sister restaurants within the Besh Restaurant Group including Lüke, Johnny Sánchez and Eunice, which is soon to open in Houston.”
What do you love about your job?
“I have never been studious. Reading textbooks and listening to lectures is not how I thrive. To be able to work in a field that is hands on and creative has been the best outlet for me. Science was a topic that I enjoyed immensely in school but never did well in. Pastry has afforded me the opportunity to form controlled experiments and learn from the outcomes. Plus, every now and then, it is really nice to look down at your hands in cookie dough and think that you’re getting paid for it.”
What are your signature techniques or greatest skills?
“I enjoy playing with and tempering chocolate, but you’ll have to ask someone else. Perhaps teaching the people around me.”
What are your favorite dishes/products to make?
“Ice cream is where it all began and it is something that I still adore playing with, all aspects of it. It’s the dessert item I will never get tired of eating.”
What are your favorite ingredients to work with?
“I go through phases. At one point it was different teas or savory flavors, then I moved on to bitters and vinegar, and then to homemade cultured dairy. Chocolate desserts can sometimes be difficult because there are so many classic flavors that it’s hard to utilize the ingredient in an inventive way.”
How you innovate through the use of ingredients?
“I innovate often through a focal ingredient combined with two complimentary flavors that pair well with the main component but not necessarily together. The use of texture and temperature is important. I like taking a flavor that you may associate with a texture and flipping it on its head. It’s also key and very important to me to use seasonal ingredients.”
What do you consider to be the biggest food trends impacting your business, and how are you responding?
“I’m seeing macarons popping up as a food trend, although I’m not the biggest fan. However, people seem to be obsessing over them so I’ve forced myself to make them over and over again until my technique was solidified. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean I shouldn’t know how to make it well for people around me to enjoy.”
“Savory flavors are becoming a thing, which is something I enjoy in desserts and also something that I’m working on. Balance is always important to me and I’m excited that people are becoming more adventurous with their eating.”
Where do you draw inspirations?
“I draw inspiration from just about every dessert that has a personal tie to a memory. My inspiration is extremely personal. When I serve a dish it is a piece of who I am through and through. It’s a real honor when something that I have made reawakens a memory for people and allows them to express their own personal reaction to it, negative or positive.”
“For example, Restaurant August’s “Dirt Cake” reminds me not only of childhood birthday parties, but also of my wedding day. The morning of the wedding I woke up early, walked to the grocery store, and had tea. I then proceeded to make chocolate pudding. It was so calming and comforting. I took a shower while it cooled down and then my bridesmaids came over and assembled a big-layered dirt cake for the reception. Making that chocolate pudding with black cocoa crumbs and whipped cream will always be a part of that special day.”
Who were your mentors/teachers/inspirations?
“Obviously Chef Kelly Fields has been a huge mentor to me. She has taught me an unimaginable amount over the past few years. I wouldn’t be where I am in my career today without her. My mother, of course! She has baked things like pineapple upside-down cake, banana pudding, and cookies. But, one of my favorites has always been waking up on a Saturday morning to the smell of buttered banana bread.”
“The most influential person has been my Husband Nick who I met while in culinary school in New York. At the time I enjoyed cooking, but he is the one who lead me to fall in love with it. He forced me to try anything and everything, to appreciate cooking, where it came from and why. Nick’s passion, enthusiasm, and knowledge are something that I strive to emulate and admire greatly.”
What did you first love about baking and pastry?
“When I was little I always loved helping out in the kitchen even if I was just observing. I loved getting my hands dirty, interacting with the food, and the physical representation of accomplishing dishes for other people to enjoy.”
What drives you to succeed?
“My drive is to constantly evolve and not get too comfortable with a position or a technique. Baking is always progressing with new techniques, new ways to manipulate ingredients, and creating new flavors all the time. I enjoy the fact that I will never know everything about my field, but I can still push myself to try.”
What do you consider to be the greatest successes of your career?
Success to me comes from seeing someone that has worked for me grow and move on to bigger and better things. Those people have each impacted me in a special way and are in some way a reflection of me. Also, getting Kelly Fields to like, and then eventually love me!”
Name something you would like to achieve that you have not done already?
“To achieve recognition for something that I’ve created that has made an impression on someone would be great. I would like to continue to teach people around me and in return learn from them. Ultimately, I look forward to owning a restaurant with my husband and creating something together that is our own.”