Many of my cooks have witnessed it: me, mid-stride, hauling ass through the bustling kitchen with a million and one things to do on my list and stopping suddenly, as abruptly as if I’ve run into an invisible pane of glass, to pause for a moment and observe some thing that I find particularly compelling. Whether it’s a gorgeous tart shell, a perfectly folded parchment cornet, a flicker of dancing gold leaf, a well cared for knife, a mise container overflowing with blossoms, a sick quenelle or a flat of the season’s perfect produce, I excitedly declare to the nearest cooks, “See you guys, see?! Beauty is everywhere in the kitchen, inspiration is everywhere!” That’s when I tell them the story behind the thing that I’ve seen or make them hold out their hands so that we can all taste the thing together or pull everyone’s attention to the technical feat of the cook who said thing belongs to. Many times, my eyes well up with tears, and as awkward as it is for my audience, I can’t help it, for it is the truest moment of inspiration and love for our craft that I feel. Whether something has been created by our universe or by our hands, beauty and inspiration are everywhere, we just have to open our eyes.
As the launch for Quince’s Spring Menu approached, I turned to another trade for my seasonal inspiration, the craft and creativity of the high fashion industry, The runways of New York, Paris, Milan and Berlin were teeming with incredible designs to spark my inspiration. The colors, textures and compositions of the fashion universe were perfectly translatable into my world of colors, textures, compositions and best of all, taste in the pastry kitchen.
My biggest source of inspiration is Valentino’s line of Spring 2014 Couture. I am always drawn to Valentino Couture for the incredibly saturated colors and delicately detailed designs that are the trademark of this iconic house of fashion. The designers of Valentino’s 2014 Spring Couture line were inspired by Operatic musical pieces, each ensemble drawn directly from a musical work of art. One of my favorite looks is an insanely beautiful cape, made up of beautiful and colorful butterflies that was, of course, inspired by Madame Butterfly. When I saw this design, it screamed “Spring!” to me and I was quite literally inspired to design a composed dessert on our Spring menu to honor it.
When I saw this design, I immediately began to connect flavor profiles with the colors and textures of the gown and cape. Espresso immediately came to mind as a frontrunner flavor to represent the gorgeous and deeply coffee colored gown, while the brightly colored butterflies offered me the opportunity to enhance the main flavor with other complimentary supporting elements, of which I chose bright first of the season strawberries, Sicilian pistachios, citrus peel and deep mahogany caramel. I thought it necessary to pay homage to the Madame Butterfly in a literal sense with a winged garnish perched delicately atop the composition.
We, as Chefs, are so incredibly lucky that we have the job of creating experiences and memories based on the influence of some beautiful thing that has inspired us. So take a look at the design, architecture, craftsmanship and artistry surrounding you. It is all there for the taking. Become inspired. Life is too short not to take the time to stop and smell, and appreciate the roses. After all, that’s where the butterflies are.