Editor's Note: Lauren Soutiere Weisenthal knows her sweet stuff, from how to make macarons to how to craft croissants. Each week since the launch of Serious Eats: Sweets, Lauren has shared her tips for making delicious pastry at home. Today's our chance to get to know Lauren a little better.
Name: Lauren Soutiere Weisenthal
Location: East Village, NYC
Occupation: pastry cook, culinary career advisor, pie-recipe-developer, and pastry technique writer.
Website/Twitter: eastvillagekitchen.com, @evillagekitchen
Tell us about your training—how did you get into pastry? It was my love for artisan bread that got me into pastry. A while back, I visited Tartine Bakery out in San Francisco and felt really frustrated that there there was nothing comparable here in New York. I began baking bread at home, but was hungry to experience firsthand exactly how one makes a truly perfect loaf; a baguette that's creamy on the inside and crackles on the outside, a croissant that shatters when you bite it, a dark, grainy loaf raised with nothing but natural levain starter.
I enrolled in an eight week course in professional bread baking, and loved it so much that when it was over, I decided to stay on at the school and get training in pastry too, with the hope of someday starting a bakery of the same caliber as Tartine here in New York.
Have you had any pastry mentors? My first chef was Avery Wittkamp, the pastry chef at Marlow & Sons and Diner in Brooklyn. She was a great mentor and encouraged me to push myself as hard as I could each day. Her rustic style, attention to detail, and her pragmatic approach to Marlow's highly seasonal menu was inspirational for me. If it wasn't for Avery, I don't think I would have continued to work in restaurants (as opposed to a bakery setting), which ultimately made me a very strong and confident cook.
What's your absolute favorite dessert? If I could only have only one dessert for the rest of my life, it would be affogato. My favorite in NYC is from Marea, but Barbuto's and Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream's are awesome too.
What was the most memorable dessert you had last year? I had a plated dessert by Albert Adria that was designed to resemble a forest scene, with bushes, rocks, moss and branches all over the plate. It reminded me of one of those dioramas we'd make inside a shoe box for book reports in elementary school, except that everything was edible and unlike a lot of modernist desserts I've tried, the flavors and textures actually worked together. It was really exciting for me.
Guilty pleasures? If nobody's there to share with me, I'll eat an entire jar of McClure's dill pickles in one sitting.
Describe your perfect meal. Last year, my husband and I shared a leisurely lunch at El Suquet de l'Almirall, a small seafood restaurant in the port of Barcelona, on the stretch that runs along the water and down to the beach. It was sunny so we sat outside and shared a crisp bottle of white wine. We devoured plates of head-on shrimp in butter and garlic, an expertly grilled monkfish steak, and a traditional Catalonian seafood stew.
Those shrimp, from the Mediterranean sea, are the best I've ever had, they haunt my dreams. We ate a lot of incredible food on that trip (several Michelin-starred places, Albert Adria's new joint) but nothing got the food so right for the time and place. A meal is so influenced by its time and place.
What food won't you eat? McDonald's, not even with a raging hangover
What would you like to try but haven't yet? Thai street food in Bangkok, the tasting menu at French Laundry
Favorite food person? Jose Andres for his enthusiasm, Anthony Bourdain for his candor, Harold McGee for proving that there's always something new to learn about the science of cooking, Martha Stewart for upholding the standards of good cooking technique, in a time when so many others on TV dumb things down and sacrifice tradition and quality for ease.
When did you first realize you were a serious eater? When I discovered that I was spending as much on ingredients, cooking tools, wine, and restaurant bills as I was on my rent.
What do your family and friends think of your food obsessions? My parents thought I was having a mental breakdown when I left my corporate job for the kitchen, but my friends were very supportive of the decision. Restaurants absorbed my life for a while—you sacrifice a lot socially, financially, and physically when you work in one, especially a great one. But everyone was very understanding and nobody complains when they're getting fed!
Favorite food sites or blogs? Besides this one? Wednesday's New York Times, Immaculate Infatuation, Cooking for Geeks, Cooking Issues by Dave Arnold, Smitten Kitchen, Eggbeater, Cake Wrecks, David Lebovitz.
Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant recommendations. Who's yours? Working at a culinary school means I have tons of industry colleagues on hand to dispense their opinions. The only problem is, sometimes an innocent request for a recommendation can escalate into a heated debate over the merits of this or that sandwich or bowl of noodles. But it's all good, literally.
And what's the best recommendation your colleagues have given you? A while back my colleague Gina turned me on to Pho Bang, a Vietnamese restaurant on Mott Street. Their Canh Chua Tom, a spicy and sour soup served with hot sauce and rice saved my life when I had the flu.
What is your favorite meal of the day and where do you get it? I love a good sandwich, anytime, anywhere. As of this week, my favorite is the reuben at Veselka, made with krakovska sausage, just enough kraut, and toe curling homemade Russian dressing. A few weeks ago it was The Fellini at Alidoro.
Do you ever cook savory foods? What's the best dish you make? I cook all the time, but since I'm pastry trained, I often get assigned dessert duty by default. The most satisfying dishes that I make myself usually involve slow-cooked meats. I love braising or smoking meats for hours over low heat. The braises typically become stews or chili, but my all-time favorite is pork shoulder, smoked over hardwood charcoal and wood chips all day, then pulled apart for tacos with pickled red onion, crema, lime, and cilantro. And, of course, pie. My favorites are sour cherry, peach, and apple, but I roll with the seasons.