Dessertbuzz recently got the opportunity to attend a dessert tasting at David Burke Townhouse with their hard-working executive pastry chef Gustavo Tzoc (pronounced like “sock”). Although extremely hopped up from all of the sugar, afterward, I managed to conduct an interview where I learned his favorite NYC bread, what desserts he eats when he’s home, and what it’s like working for David Burke (who stopped by as well).
The interview took place after 6 full-on dessert courses (although on Tzoc’s recommendation we did have one savory dish, mostly for the benefit of Mrs. Dessertbuzz whose brain is not used to being subjected to 2 hours of desserts.
DB: A lot of people think that being a pastry chef at a well-known NYC restaurant is pretty glamorous, are they right?
GT:If you really want to be out there with the high hitters you have to continuously work work work. For example I admire Johnny Iuzzini or Richard Leech for different reasons. Richard Leech at Park Avenue because he’s so talented and he’s worked so hard and everybody could tell you that he used to work 6, 7 days a week for the first 5-7 years he was at the restaurant and Johnny because he’s just very out there. He likes to hit a home run and for everybody to see it which is great.
DB: Right, voted most sexy chef-
GT: Which is great too! I want people to see my desserts but I like to work as hard in the back to get it that way. It’s not a glamorous life. I mean it’s fun especially in this restaurant because I get to do whatever I want and that’s great, not too many places you can do that. I can explore things, I can do different flavors and in other places [the owner] might be like “oh you shouldn’t try that”. Here it’s like “go ahead” .
DB: Do you ever get a chance to just come in on a day when there’s nothing going on and you can just totally experiment?
GT: Oh yeah absolutely, usually on a Monday or a Tuesday after the busy weekend service and after I prepare for the week, I have a lot of recipes that I get from magazines. It’s kind of like a springboard to new things. Even if I don’t use the recipe I may create it in a different way but it inspires me. Or sometimes just out of the blue I just create something completely new. Sometimes it fails sometimes it’s great and I put it on the menu ASAP.
DB: When was the last time you took a vacation?
GT: A year and a half ago I took one week.
DB: Ok, you’re on vacation, it’s Saturday night what do you prepare for yourself?
GT: Takeout.! Seriously, people ask my partner “does he cook a lot at home” and he’s like “no!”. A lot of chefs don’t. From time to time maybe a special event but after a while I cook so much here I’m here from 9am to 11pm so the last thing I want to see is a pan.
MDB: I heard a chef on the radio say that his kitchen is too small.
GT: Two years ago I had a Pullman so I couldn’t cook there. There was nothing I could do, but I have the kitchen here where I have everything.
DB: Is there a dessert that you fix yourself that you couldn’t serve here?
GT: Great question, I do a lot of cakes at home if I feel like something sweet or breads sometimes.
DB: What’s your favorite kind of bread in the city?
GT: Levain Bakery, they’re not pretentious, they just do it straight up and I like that. When I want to spoil myself I get some bread from there.
DB: have you had their chocolate chip cookies?
DT and MDB: [Gasps]
GT: [ laughs.] I should have? Are they humongous?
DB: Yes. It’s like 3 or 4 bucks and it’s huge and really heavy and really good.
GT: So you would need a double milk glass when you buy that? You can’t even dunk it?
DB: No way, this cookie won’t fit in any glass I know of! I have been asking other pastry chefs what their favorite chocolate chip cookies are and there’s been a split between Levain and Jacques Torres.
GT: Well you know every pastry chef sees a cookie in a different way. When I make cookies my best one is a triple chocolate but I put a little more emphasis on the quality of the chocolate. I have to taste it and see if it has any more flavors in the back so whenever I bake it even if you don’t notice it at first you’re like “oh that reminds me of something” so I try to [achieve] a more complex flavor than you get with just any chocolate. Not that Ghirardelli’s or Hershey’s are bad but if you get chocolate from Brazil or South Africa that have these vanilla scents or coffee in the background then it’s something that tips you off to think “this is better”.
MDB: Do you ever change things if people ask?
GT: Yeah I don’t like to, because if that’s how I created the dessert then there’s a reason for it but if a person just truly doesn’t like it but likes the other elements then they’re in the right.
In Part II, David Burke himself chimes in about Tzoc. Read Part II of the interview here.
David Burke Townhouse is located at 133 East 61st
Phone: (212) 813-2121
Owner: David Burke
Chef De Cuisine: Sylvain Delpique
Executive Pastry Chef: **Gustavo Tzoc is now at Abe and Arthurs