Saturday, April 7, 2012

Celebrate Spring Awakenings with a Goddess of Pastry: Chef Claudia Fleming

In March, we celebrated Women’s History Month and culinary culture with this unique food story about one of the “best known and most respected pastry chefs in America” and now we can celebrate the goddess of Eastre--the goddess of rebirth, spring and new beginnings.

The profile of Chef Claudia here is excerpted in part, from my book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook slated to hit bookshelves in May.

Chef Claudia & Gerry, North Fork Table & Inn

A lot has been written about Claudia Fleming and Gerry Hayden, the husband-and-wife co-owners of the North Fork Table & Inn. She’s a 2000 James Beard Award–winning pastry chef and bestselling cookbook author, “The Last Course: Desserts from Gramercy Tavern.”

He’s a 2011 James Beard Best Chef nominee and earned Esquire Magazine’s Best Restaurant Award. But descriptions of their impressive accomplishments are usually followed by the story of how they chose to leave the bright lights of New York City to open their North Fork restaurant, modestly nestled among the vineyards and farms of Southold. Their vision helped lead what would soon become the North Fork-as-a-culinary-destination experience.
During the second stage of a golden age that swept Gotham’s restaurants in the 1980s and 1990s, Claudia joined Jonathan Waxman shortly after his 1983 return to New York from Chez Panisse to open Jams restaurant. As a struggling dancer, she worked in the front of the house merely to pay her bills.
She grew up in a Long Island Italian family and explains that while they ate very well—never canned or frozen food—at Jams, her eyes were opened to ingredients she’d never seen before. Claudia found her true artistic calling in the culinary world and decided she needed some formal training. She attended Peter Kump’s cooking school in Manhattan, then studied for a year in Paris at the Fauchon Patisserie.
Claudia discovered her passion for pastry when she worked at the then-groundbreaking Union Square Café.
She hugs the seasons, first and foremost, parsing what’s ripe and ready. When she worked with Chef Tom Collichio at Gramercy Tavern, he always told her, “If it grows together, it goes together,” and she agrees.
Further, her personal “Rule of Claudia” mandates that “it’s okay to use a given ingredient if it comes from a region naturally and is not ever going to be available locally.”
She uses bananas and coffee, for example, because, while they are imported to the United States, they are sourced from their native habitat.
Chef Claudia Fleming with Oyserponds' berry farmer, Tom
Chef Claudia & her berry farmers 
Upon establishing their restaurant, Claudia and Gerry had to develop ties with their growers, which Claudia says was not easy. The growers and fishermen were not used to providing products to a single source on a regular basis. There were no business terms; they wanted cash. However, they persevered and gradually built relationships on a mutually beneficial foundation, including their friendship with Tom Stevenson at Oysterponds Farm.    

Claudia’s Blueberry Cobbler
Serves 6-8

Cobbler Dough:
1 2/3 c. all purpose flour
3 1/2 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. (3 oz.) very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 hard boiled egg yolks
2/3 c. very cold heavy cream plus 2 tbsp.
2 tbsp. turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and hard-boiled egg yolks. Pulse to combine, until the yolks are broken down. Add very cold butter; mix until the dough resembles fine meal. Add the cream, and pulse until the dough just comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, gently gather the dough into a mass (the dough needn’t be smooth). Using a large spoon dipped in flour, form dough into 8 to 10 2-inch shaped balls. Chill for 30 minutes or up to 8 hours.

Peach-Blueberry Filling:
2 lb. sliced, fresh peaches
1 lb. blueberries
6 tbsp. granulated sugar

In a large bowl, toss together the peaches, blueberries, and sugar. Put the fruit in a shallow 2 1/2-qt. baking dish. Arrange the 2-inch dough ball biscuits on top, leaving approximately 1 inch between them. Brush the biscuits with the remaining 2 tbsp. of cream, and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake the cobbler until the fruit is bubbling and the biscuits are golden brown (30 to 40 minutes).

 The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook can be ordered from Amazon or Barnes & Noble:

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