Sugar and Plumm Pastry Chef Christina Rakitze: "Desserts Are Meant To Celebrate Moments"
The daughter of James Beard Award-winning chef Robert Marcelli, Christina Rakitze spent much of her childhood playing in a professional kitchen. "My first memories are of sneaking chocolate chips out of his kitchen pantry with my brothers," she says. And it was during culinary event outings in the city with her father when she met Marc Forgione, whose father Larry had worked with Marcelli for several years.
Liz Lippman Sugar and Plumm's Earthquake in a Fishbowl
While Rakitze was studying fine art at the time, she expressed an interest in pastry to Forgione, who invited her in to trail at BLT Prime. Rakitze had no experience in the kitchen -- "I didn't even know how to cube butter," she says -- but she was a fast learner, working her way up to pastry sous chef within two years. After leaving the restaurant to pursue a pastry arts degree at the Culinary Institute of America, she went back to Forgione for the opening of his eponymous Tribeca restaurant in 2008. In 2011, Rakitze joined the Sugar and Plumm (377 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-787-8778) team as director of pastry relations, where she contributes to menu development, directs the opening of new locations, and oversees the pastry programs. In the interview that follows, Rakitze discusses why the customer always comes first, the glories of sparkles in desserts, and why her family gatherings are comparable to an episode of Top Chef.
What was it like growing up with a James Beard Award-winning chef for a father?
My brothers and I grew up observing his work and eating the fruits of his passion. The apple definitely didn't fall far from the tree; my brother and I are both chefs, and my other brother is a food buyer for Eataly. Plus, we all married chefs! It's a whole family thing.
What's the first thing you consider when creating a dessert?
The first thing that we think of, definitely, are our customers. That's where we start. Everything at Sugar and Plumm is about whimsy. The great thing about desserts is that they're really meant to celebrate moments -- whether it's a promotion, a birthday, or a sundae shared between a mother and daughter after a dance recital -- it's about these moments. We love to create fun, new things to celebrate those times.
Speaking of whimsy -- tell me more about this large format "Earthquake in a Fishbowl" offering.
We love that menu item -- it's so out-there. The dessert becomes the experience, which was our reason for doing it. There's also something in there for everybody -- it has three cakes, puddings, some key lime pie, three ice creams. We just wanted to create that staple menu item that would be the go-to option for folks looking for something fun.
What is your personal go-to dessert order when you're dining out?
I love ice cream sundaes because there's so much you can do with them, and there are so many different directions you can take them in. You can stay classical and familiar or go really crazy and creative. They're great, too, because you can use whatever you have on hand. I love to see what other chefs are doing.