Pastry chefs: the under-appreciated heroes of the dining world. Dessert may be the last part of your dinner, but they're also what's responsible for sending guests out on a high note. And since pastry chefs tend to see their talents go unsung, we thought we'd highlight just a few of the amazing toques turning out amazing, inventive treats.
Renae Connolly at Cafe ArtScience. The Fresno, California native was working in bakeries by high school, so, she's had plenty of time to hone the innovation displayed at Cafe ArtScience, Harvard engineer David Edwards' unique restaurant unites classic refinement with boundary-pushing techniques from chef Patrick Campbell (previously No.9 Park) and beverage director Todd Maul. (Fast fact: Maul and Connolly also worked together at Ken Oringer's just closed Clio.) Connolly knows how to be elegant and elaborate — whether using a recent jaunt through Japan as inspiration for an outrageous kaitafi dough "tree" surrounded by ginger-elderflower gelée and "stones" of raspberry ice cream, or hosting La Dolce Vita, her series of five-course dessert tastings. Must-Try: “Tiny Spoons,” her rotating selection of fully-composed, one-bite versions of seasonal desserts served on a silver spoon. 650 E Kendall St., Cambridge; 857-999-2193
Photo by Joel Benjamin
Hana Quon at Cafe Madeleine. We had a mild heart attack when Cafe Madeleine closed in February for a seasonal oasis, and then extended its shuttering due to some unspecified damage to the South End spot. How would we cope with our sweet tooth cravings? Luckily, the wait is over: Cafe Madeleine reopened in April, and you should swing by to get familiar with one of our most recent 30 Under 30 honorees. Quon (pictured) is quite a talent, a L’Academie de Cuisine grad now entrusted by Frederic Robert, who spent 25 years as pastry partner to Alain Ducasse, to represent his work and run day-to-day operations at this Boston patisserie. Must-Try: Quon is always coming up with something new, but we always love her hand with the classics, like superb chaussons aux pommes. 517 Columbus Ave.; 857-239-8052
Deuxave photos by Andy Ryan/Courtesy Deuxave
Shaun Velez at Deuxave. Chef Chris Coombs added some hot young talent to his team this year. Welcome pastry Shaun Velez, who joined the refined French-American restaurant in January after several years at Daniel Boulud's empire. Velez has a knack for technique, but he couples fantastic flavor combinations with a modern sense of fun — augmenting his desserts with tasty tidbits like cocoa rocks. He's also a pro when it comes to presentation: There's even an off-menu "engagement ring sugar sphere" Velez created for presenting rings when guests pop the question. We're in love. Must-Try: The Meyer Lemon Vacherin (below), a sorbetti with black pepper chantilly, red currant gelee and matcha paper. It's plated by Velez on the spinning turntable of a vintage record player, a behind-the-scenes quirk that sure looks great when it reaches the table. 371 Commonwealth Ave.; 617-517-5915
Lynette Mosher at Flank. The emphasis may be on the beef at this just-opened steakhouse, but don't snooze on the work of Mosher (who previously owned a well-received restaurant, Lily Bistro, up in Maine). She's clearly not one to underestimate: In fact, in February Mosher emerged a victor (and $25,000 richer) from the Food Network hit Cutthroat Kitchen. And when she's not devising desserts for Flank, she's brainstorming ideas for the restaurant group's future eateries. Must-Try: We're all about her Clark Bar Tart (pictured above at page top), a combo of peanut butter mousse, peanut brittle, dark chocolate ganache and salted burnt caramel. 74 Tower Rd., Waltham; 781-893-5265
Photo courtesy Harvest
Brian Mercury at Harvest. Even amid the recent changes at Harvest, specifically 30 Under 30 honoree Tyler Kinnett stepping in as executive chef, Mercury's marvelous pastry program has been constant. He's been a steady presence at the Harvard Square spot, always finding interesting ways to incorporate seasonal ingredients. Right now, he's incorporating carrots into a Spring-ready carrot creme brûlée and using celery for a dried apricot coffee cake with celery chervil sorbet, quinoa crumble, rhubarb curd and rosé foam. Must-Try: We'll never get enough of his signature Taza chocolate cremeux (pictured), a thick, decadent mousse with a salty caramel center and malted milk chocolate sauce. 44 Brattle St., Cambridge; 617-868-2255
Photo by Joel Benjamin
Jacqueline Dole at Gracie's Ice Cream and The Parlor Ice Cream Co. We wept when Dole (pictured), our former 30 Under 30 honoree, moved on from Mei Mei. We wept again — tears of joy, this time — when we discovered it was to launch her own concept: The Parlor, an ice cream pop-up that brings some of her inveitive flavors to joints all over town. (She's been spending some time at Gracie's Ice Cream along the way too.) The fabulous flavors, which range from maple parsnip to "sesamiso" (miso with sesame caramel), will officially roll out for sale next month. But she's already been teasing things with plenty of special appearances. Next up: an "Industry Night Ice Cream" social at Hojoko on April 26 (10 PM-2 AM) and she'll take part in a fermentation workshop hosted by Aurum on May 9. Must-Try: Whatever's new. Dole's creativity knows no bounds.
Alexandre Bonnefoi at Strip by Strega. If there's any one criticism that sometimes nags at restaurateur Nick Varano's Strega family of restaurants, it's that they can sometimes seem more concerned with glitter than gravitas. So it was a smart move to bring Bonnefoi to Strip by Strega, the shimmering steakhouse armed with some of the flashy trappings of Vegas: think neon underlighting and a DJ booth. The French-born chef, who joined the team toward the end of 2015, has worked at acclaimed restaurants like the three Michelin-starred Epicure and Paris's Four Seasons Hotel George V, where he oversaw the creation of specialty desserts for the Ceremony de César, aka the "French Oscars." His resume is impressive, but the awe-inspiring edibles really speak for themselves. Must-Try: The vanilla panna cotta, served in a cloud of dry ice smoke, with pineapple and mango egg yolk is to die for. 64 Arlington St.; 617-456-5300
Meghan Thompson at Townsman. Even though chef Matt Jennings' charcuterie know-how gets (deservedly) much of the glory at his Downtown American brasserie, Steel & Rye alum Thompson shouldn't be overlooked for a bread and pastry program that keeps up and then some. She plays along with the spot's somewhat nostalgic, rustic-chic sensibility, turning out ideas like Boston Brown Bread service baked in vintage maple syrup cans. And during Townsman's monthly brunch, she fills a cake table with a splay of fabulous treats — from "Fig or Foe," caramelized goat milk ice cream with figs, whipped honey and black Chinese vinegar ice cream to chocolate cake with beet ice cream. Must-Try: The spectacular candy cape ice cream (pictured), a mushroom ice cream with chervil and apple vinaigrette and steel cut oats, 120 Kingston St.; 617-993-0750
Photo by Mike Diskin
Kate Holowchik at Yvonne's. One of the city's most inventive pastry chefs at one of its hottest new restaurants? Match made in heaven. Holowchik, another 30 Under 30 alum (can we pick 'em or what?), is constantly bringing exciting and unusual ideas to diners — including macaron ice cream sandwiches in candy-inspired flavors, like Swedish Fish. We can never wait to see what funky spin she turns out next. Must-Try: Holowchik recently added an avant garde baked Alaska that covers a fudge-like chocolate cake with vanilla semifreddo and is filled with nutty nougat, chocolate-covered almonds and chocolate chips. (It's topped with salted caramel, torched meringue and flaming booze, of course.) Must-Try: 2 Winter Pl.; 617-267-0047