From chocolatiers to pastry chefs, Valentine's Day is the Super Bowl of dessert holidays. For Peter Schmutte, the celebrated pastry chef at Cerulean, dinner service on Friday, Saturday, and an unusual Sunday will be the culmination of a week of planning and prep as his artful creations make their way to the tables of lovers celebrating with sweets.
Schmutte makes everything on his dessert menu in house from macarons to chocolates and his technical skill and flavor combinations are some of the most complex in the city. (For example, try his blonde chocolate tart with Valrhona chocolate and cashew praline mousse on a chocolate sponge cake with a cocoa sable and tangerine, butterscotch cream, toasted meringue, and a cashew Florentine or his ginger cream Napoleon made with five-spice phyllo, fresh pear mousse, cherry mead caramel and rosemary shortbread.) We took a minute to ask him about his preparations before the big weekend.
NUVO: How busy will you be on Valentine's weekend?
Peter Schmutte: Our biggest pop is still Saturday night even though we're open specially on Sunday night just for Valentine's. We'll be doing a few special things in the dining room, plus we always offer mignardise at the end of the meal. My typical dessert sales average about 50 percent of diners on any given night but it will be much higher for Valentine's Day. I'd love to see it at 90 percent.
NUVO: Wait, what is a "mignardise"?
Schmutte: Technically, a mignardise is a special little assortment of sweets a pastry chef serves after desert. At Cerulean, we always do something complementary like a caramel or a chocolate at the end of the meal. This year for Valentine's we're going to kick it up and offer a really nice selection of four or five different things.
NUVO: What are you thinking for Valentine's Day?
Schmutte: For chocolate, I've been kicking around the idea of a chocolate Pavlova for a while and I'm definitely going to try to have that on the menu for Valentine's. It's a meringue that you dry out in the oven, but it's not entirely crisp. When you cut into it, it should be a bit soft in the middle. Typically a Pavlova is just dried meringue with fruit and whipped cream, so I'm starting to think about how I'm going to play on those themes. I like to play with the technical aspects and throw in a few wrinkles.
NUVO: What do you consider a risky dessert?
Schmutte: Cerulean has a reputation for being a place where you're going to get something a little bit different. The chefs on the hot line take a few chances and I have to take a couple of chances, too. I like to give somebody something that maybe they're not going to expect or that they're not going to be able to find anywhere else. It's kind of the fun to do something a little bit off the wall.
NUVO: What does a pastry chef's day look like on Valentine's Day?
Schmutte: We always work! My daughter's birthday is February 12 but we always celebrate it on the Sunday after. I think I've convinced my wife to bring my daughter to the restaurant for Valentine's Day. She's 6 and the day I was the most proud was the day I offered her a chocolate chip cookie and she said "No, I want a macaron!"
NUVO: What do you consider to be a win on a busy night like Valentine's?
Schmutte: A success is when people leave the restaurant happy and they want to come back. I'm in an open kitchen and I love it when people come by and say "that was the best dessert I've ever had." And the biggest compliment to me is when a table will order two rounds of dessert. It's always special when they enjoy something so much they ask for the dessert menu again and order something else.