San Francisco Chronicle – Dessert Masters

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Six Pastry Chefs Rise to the Top 

Wednesday February 7th, 1990

Author: Michael Bauer (Chronicle Executive Food Editor)

Without too much thought, most people could name the top chefs in the Bay Area. But those same people would be hard pressed to identify even two pastry chefs who create the best desserts.

How ironic – because Americans love dessert. By all rights, pastry chefs should be more popular than mom or apple pie. After all, these artists can turn out a dessert that makes mom’s seem like a sad imitation.

To recognize these unsung heroes, I’ve eaten my way through scores of desserts and talked to dozen of people to find the top dessert masters in the Bay Area. Many people create good desserts, those that satisfy our innate craving for sweets. However, I was looking for those people who have the rare ability to make the whole better than the sum of the parts. I’ve found six who consistently produce great desserts and deserve a place in the Dessert Masters Hall of Fame.

  • Emily Luchetti of Stars, Star Cafe and 690, tantalizes diners with a sour cherry-almond short-cake or a praline-mocha Napoleon.
  • Rochelle Huppin of Lark Creek in Larkspur creates devil’s food cake with buttermilk ice cream, or peach dumplings stuffed with streusel and encased in flaky pie dough and served with caramel sauce and cinnamon ice cream.
  • Fran Gage, owner of Patisserie Franchise in the city, concocts delightful pumpkin tarts or pear-ginger clafouti.
  • Lindsey Shere, pastry chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley and an owner of the Downtown Bakery and Creamery in Healdsburg, creates hearty desserts such as apple crisp or caramelized almond tart, as well as a more refined selection for the main restaurant, including orange ice cream, profiteroles and Meyer lemon floating islands.
  • David Leboyitz of Monsoon works with Oriental flavors to produce chocolate taro-root brownies or rice tarts with red bananas.
  • Marlene Haseltine of L’Avenue creates American specialities  including warm apple turnovers with cinnamon ice cream and caramel sauce, or a winter shortcake with toasted walnuts, vanilla ice cream, poached pears with caramel and chocolate sauces.

Rochelle Huppin

It’s ironic that at the young age of 27, Rochelle Huppin would be so enthralled with home-style American classics. It’s become such an interest, she’s working on a book of rustic American desserts. However, her execution is anything but homespun, and she’s able to give a new twist to familiar desserts. Her devil’s food cake gets its rich fuchsia color and moist texture from beets. Her butterscotch pudding is more like a creme brulee.

The desserts are a perfect marriage of sophisticated homestyle food produced by Bradley Ogden at Lark Creek Inn, housed in a secluded Victorian in Larkspur.

It’s also quite a jump from the desserts Huppin created at the Bel Air Hotel, during her six months at Citrus under Michael Richard or the years as a pastry chef at Caffe Angeli, all in the Los Angeles area.

Her passion for sweets started early. When she was 17, Huppin was ready to leave her Spokane house and head for France to learn to cook. Her parents offered to pay for cooking school if she also got a college diploma. She took them up on it and graduated with honors from UCLA with a major in Near Eastern literature and languages.

Since the restaurant opened about six months ago, she spent 14 hours a day in the kitchen, creating the breads and 10 desserts which change every few weeks.

Yet she’s gearing up for more work. Lark Creek plans to open a cafe and bakery, and she will create pastries and desserts for the public.

Without boundless energy, she tries to work on a new dessert most days, always keeping in mind a piece of wisdom from Richard: “The best dessert has not been created yet”.

Maybe not, but Huppin and the rest have come pretty close.

The original news article with recipes: 

SF Chronicle Feb 7, 1990