“The best chefs are great storytellers,” says Michael Laiskonis, “and pastry chefs are no exception.”
It’s Tuesday morning at Johnson & Wales University and Chef Laiskonis is assembling a dessert he created while visiting a plantation in the Dominican Republic. While he is carefully and meticulously describing the technical aspects of the dish, I am awestruck by his ability to artfully recreate and share his experiences. “The crumbled sable represents the dirt roads,” he says and then spoons a streak of roasted chocolate on the dish “to represent the cocoa found everywhere.”
As Chef Laiskonis continues, I find my own mind wondering and wandering — how would I create and interpret some of my favorite stories? If I wanted to talk about the time my girlfriends and I discovered “Just Dance” for the Wii — it would be colorful, fun and sweet (maybe spheres of fresh fruit sorbets) served in birdbath champagne glasses with shaved bits of chocolate. Perhaps I’d like to share about the first trip I took to Paris on my own, an homage to turning 21, that included my first ride on the bateaux mouche with a baguette and bottle of Muscadet in hand. To tell that story, I’d probably create some sort of fruit and cheese board, along with small cordial shots of sweet wine and alcohol laced purees, and a pile of fleur de sol, to represent the salty smell of the Seine.
As we begin a long Memorial Day weekend, there will be many opportunities to pause and reflect on stories and experiences that shape who we are as a nation and a provide us a deep sense of history and service. While many of us will be firing up the grill and spending the day in the sunlight, take a moment to challenge yourself to tell a story through a dish. It could be in context, relating to a service member you know, or it could be abstract, with your interpretation of history or a geographic location.
Whatever it is, push yourself to visually represent, structurally balance it physically, and then, of course, allow the flavors to dance and delight upon tasting. To make a dish that is visually pleasing but even better tasting, is your goal, and like a true chef, you must be ready to tell its story. That’s the mark of true storyteller in the kitchen.