FT Foodies: David Lebovitz

American pastry chef David Lebovitz has been working in restaurants since he was 16. He spent more than a decade at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, before moving to Paris. His latest book, Ready for Dessert, will be published in the UK this autumn.

Why did you become a pastry chef?

I was working as a line chef at Chez Panisse and I used to watch the pastry chefs. I liked the technique, the precision. Most pastry chefs are quiet and they work on their own. It takes a certain kind of temperament.

Do you have your own Proust’s madeleine – a treat that brings back memories of childhood?

Anything with marshmallows. I’ve had a very long love affair with marshmallows: as a kid I liked cooking them over a fire. When I became a pastry chef, I learned to make them myself with egg whites, sugar syrup and gelatine. I also make marshmallow toppings for lemon pies and chocolate ice cream pies.

What was your first job in the food industry?

Washing dishes, of course! But my first real job was re-stocking the salad bar at an Italian restaurant in Ithaca, New York, where I went to college. It was a kind of pizza restaurant, with a huge salad station. And people used to just attack it, grabbing at the food. We called it The Trough.

Why did you move to Paris?

There’s no short answer. I guess I could say for the croissants. Or maybe I was just tired of people being nice to me, so I decided to go to Paris.

Do you have a signature dessert?

My ginger cake. It’s super moist, with cinnamon, cloves and loads of fresh ginger. People say, “Do you need all that ginger?” You do.

A few years ago, cupcakes hit Britain. Then it was macaroons. What’s next?

Caramel corn [popcorn], I hope… I was just in New York City, and I bought a huge tin of Garrett’s Caramel Corn. I don’t know, really. People say cupcakes are going to die out, but they’re not; they’re part of the American vocabulary. And macaroons are certainly not going to die out in Paris.

Chocolate or vanilla?

Chocolate. I go through a lot of it. In Paris it’s difficult, because people don’t bake at home like they do in America, so you can’t just go to a supermarket and buy kilo bars of chocolate in bulk.

People seem to be increasingly gluten-intolerant. What is your take on this trend?

I’m going to publish a new recipe on my website and I’m deciding whether to call it “gluten-free brownie”, or just “brownie”. It is a brownie. It’s gluten-free because it has no flour in it. I’m not sure my brownie needs to be compartmentalised.

‘Ready for Dessert’ by David Lebovitz is published on September 9 by Jacqui Small, £25.

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