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Why Pastry Chef Brendan Platts Emphasizes Substance over Style

At a time when food sales can be driven by how Instagrammable your dish looks, veteran pastry chef Brendan Platts is bucking the trend and putting taste before looks and letting flavours stand on their own.

In place of the brashly coloured tarts, piled high with extravagant trimmings that you may find on other accounts, Brendan prefers to share images of flaky croissants in stunningly perfect concentric circles, beautifully glossy brioche, or creamy and smooth gelato (which you can check out here and here).

Why Pastry Chef Brendan Platts Emphasizes Substance over Style
Photography by Josh Tenn-Yuk courtesy of Callebaut.

For Brendan, when it comes to cooking, it’s always been substance over style.

Brendan’s first cooking job was at L’Entre-Gens, Café Communautaire, in St-Adele, Quebec as a participant in Katimavik, a volunteer program that would take him across Canada.

At L’Entre-Gens, Café Communautaire, in St-Adele, Quebec, Brendan cooked up affordable meals for the city’s inhabitants who may otherwise not get a solid lunch or dinner. Soon after joining the team, he realized he had an affinity for baking. The scaling, measuring, precise movements of pastry and baking appealed to his inherent scientific nature.

He followed this love of science to engineering school first however he found that being able to hold, in tangible form, the creation of his process was much more satisfying.

Pursuing this desire to create, he enrolled at Fleming College’s Culinary Arts Degree Program. He admits that he actually hated working with pastry in college. He found the material to be too ‘old school’ – the finicky fondant designs, the over-the-top styling and 80s throwbacks weren’t for him.

Brendan’s baking method is the antithesis of this overly-complicated fashion. Though he left engineering behind, this scientific approach to cooking and baking has stayed with Brendan throughout his career. As he says, “I’m usually the nerdiest person in the kitchen now.” Brendan thinks in technical terms when it comes to baking; evidenced by his ‘less Insta, more taste’ belief. He considers temperature, structure, and chemistry among the most important factors when it comes to pastry.

Being a self-proclaimed “nerd” has meant that he is constantly on the search for new knowledge, new ideas, new concepts that he can understand and incorporate. His passion for learning has brought him to a variety of different jobs and restaurants.

Photography by Josh Tenn-Yuk courtesy of Callebaut.

After graduating from culinary school, he moved to Toronto and began working at Cava as a cook with Chris MacDonald and Doug Penfold. It was at Cava that he had his first experience creating pastry that wasn’t “over the top” – piping thousands of churros and making clafouti a minute. A year into his career as a garde manger, he moved over to XOCOCAVA, Cava’s (now closed) chocolate shop. At Xoco, he worked under the guidance of Chef Laura White – whom he credits with teaching him much of what he knows about chocolate and baking. 

From there, Chef Brendan once again set out on his quest for knowledge and was part of the opening team at LUMA, alongside Toronto mainstay’s Jason Bangerter, Patrick Kriss and Lindsay Haddock. Then, moving on to SOMA Chocolatemaker, Toronto’s well-loved chocolate and gelato producer. Brendan worked with Toronto pastry legend David Castallen to focus on not only learning the ropes on creating delicious gelato, but to understand how to source the best ingredients and operate a business.

Taking these newly-gained skills, Brendan once again moved on to artisanal grocery store, Pusateri’s, where he spearheaded their pastry program for their state-of-the-art commissary kitchen. As a people-person, he enjoyed the managerial aspect but didn’t find the position as satisfying as working in a more hands-on capacity in the kitchen.

Seeking to hone his baking skills, he would again work with Laura White, and old friend Andrea Mastandrea, at Forno Cultura. While there, he expanded his repertoire and started to gain more of an understanding of Italian baked goods, methods and flavour profiles.

Croissant cross-section

 After two years of learning the ropes of Italian pastry, he made his way over to the Drake Commissary. As part of the Drake opening team, Chef Brendan worked on R&D, began creating gelato, and worked on the property wide dessert menu and Drake catering offerings (including Drake Hotel, One Fifty, Minibar and Devonshire Inn).

Chef Brendan is currently the Corporate Pastry Chef for ICONINK, based out of the Bisha Hotel. He heads up the pastry program for all their multiple restaurant properties in the hotel, as well as a number of external restaurants.

Brendan doesn’t believe in using what you can’t taste, or garnishing just for the sake of garnishing. He wants to have flavour in every bite of what he creates. He also tries to ensure a balanced dessert, that doesn’t overwhelm a diner with sweetness. “I want someone to eat everything on their plate when they order a dessert,” he says, “when you have a dessert that is overly sweet, you start eating and and get tired halfway through!”

At this year’s Terroir Symposium, Brendan had the pleasure of creating some of his signature viennoiserie where he put this balanced tasting philosophy to use. Using Cacao Barry 75% ‘Tanzanie’ and ‘Zephyr’ white couverture – as well as their pure pistachio paste, Chef Brendan developed a double chocolate pain au chocolat, as well as a lemon+pistachio, and raspberry+white chocolate croissants. He describes them as follows “..the bitterness, fruitiness and strong cacao flavour of the ‘Tanzanie’ dark chocolate is balanced out by the salinity and richness of the butter, while the lemons cut the fattiness of the pistachio and the sweetness and creaminess of the white chocolate balanced the tartness of the Ontario raspberries.”

Photography by Josh Tenn-Yuk courtesy of Callebaut.

With Cacao Barry, Chef Brendan is able to really let individual flavours shine through:  “I’ve now used Cacao Barry (and Callebaut) couvertures for nearly a decade, and I find that their range is extensive enough that depending on the application, you can highlight bitterness, astringency, fruitiness, nuttiness and a whole range of different profiles.  You can even use their newest couverture, Callebaut Ruby, to season many dishes much the same way you would add lemon or another acid to highlight flavours.”   

Ruby’s fermentation process differs than regular chocolate so it retains a striking rose colour. With Ruby, Brendan (and his fellow pastry chef Cori Osborne) made a take on his viennoiseries as well as ‘Jammy Dodgers’ using Ruby to make a mousse and pairing this with goat yogurt, and Ontario raspberry. These three standout ingredients pop in the dish, because they’re not fighting to be heard’ by a mess of flavours. 

At the end of the day, Brendan believes that  “With the best ingredients, creating something delicious is a much simpler process – local fruit, sustainably-sourced and produced chocolates, quality sugars and flours – should all be the highlights, and our job is to make them sing in harmony.  You should be able to taste everything that is in a dish,” asserts Chef Brendan, “sometimes you need to take away two or three flavours and let the others build to their potential.”

Headshot photography by Dahlia Katz (@dahkiakatz) Photography

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