Morimoto Pastry Chef Michelle Kogan's Desserts Pack Fermented Flavors
It was pastry chef Michelle Kogan's culinary-inclined grandmothers and her stepmother's "over-the-top" cooking that instilled in her an early admiration for restaurants. "It was as if we were in a restaurant at home, which really made me want to be in a restaurant even more," she explains.
After graduating from the French Culinary Institute, she staged at a number of highly acclaimed New York restaurants -- including Jean Georges, Del Posto, and the Modern -- before landing a pastry sous chef position at Nobu 57, where she stayed for four years. It was there, under the guidance of executive pastry chef Gabriele Riva, that Kogan developed a heightened appreciation for Japanese cuisine and ingredients. "He is the person I pretty much owe everything to," Kogan says. "He hand trained me and invested a lot of his time into the process."
When Riva left Nobu, Kogan followed, stepping into a six-month stint at Torrisi and Parm before her loyalty to Eastern ingredients propelled her to help open Tao Downtown in June 2013. It was a craving to showcase her refined approach that led her into an executive pastry chef role at Morimoto (88 Tenth Avenue, 212-989-8883), where her dessert menu (which will debut in the next few weeks) will showcase her devotion to clean flavor profiles, Japanese ingredients, and minimal amounts of sugar. We chatted with Kogan about tracking inspiration, the kitchen tool she can't live without, and how she put her own Asian spin on the black and white cookie.
How would you define your approach in the kitchen?
My style is minimal. I don't like to use too many flavors when I'm composing a dish. I like the way I was trained in picking and choosing flavors to create a third flavor, an intersection of flavors. In terms of plating, I plate in a more feminine manner. Also, I try to make desserts that don't have a high amount of sugar and have a minimal amount of fat in them, which really brings out the flavor and helps to change the perception of how people look at dessert. I sometimes see savory dishes that have more sugar in them than a dessert does. For example, right now we're doing a panna cotta with amazaki, which is a fermented rice drink and has a lot of health benefits. It works really well when you mix it with berries -- it's really beautiful and has a bright flavor.
Would you say you have a preference for using Asian ingredients in your desserts?
Oh -- absolutely. I'm obsessed with Japanese culture and Asian ingredients. I tried to step away from it at Torrisi and Parm, but to be honest, I was just using [those ingredients] while I was there. Thankfully, Rich [Torrisi] and Mario [Carbone] were into it, and they were nice about letting me do it. They really let me use a lot of ingredients that were not part of their regular pantry. For instance, Rich wanted to do something that was based on a black and white cookie, and so I ended up putting black and white sesame into macaroons -- which was super me and super Japanese.
What sparked your affinity for these ingredients?
I just really love the flavor profile of Asian ingredients, and I love using savory ingredients in pastry, such as soy sauce and mirin. I've just always preferred Japanese cuisine. It's very flavorful without being overpowering, and it consists of super clean flavors -- which are flavors I love to cook with.