Featuring: Chef Daniel Skurnick, Executive pastry chef of Buddakan Restaurant, NYC
What or who inspired you to become a pastry chef?
I began cooking at a very young age, working at the bottom level of a big restaurant in upstate New York. I eventually worked my way through all of the stations in the kitchen. Pastry was the last position, but it was a perfect fit. I love both the chaos of creativity and the discipline of the technique.
How would you describe your culinary style?
I would say my style can be very fluid. As a pastry chef, you must constantly tailor your style to fit the five courses of food that may precede the dessert. At Buddakan, I try to create desserts that are based in Asian ingredients or techniques, but still resonate in a comforting way to the average New York diner.
If you could only make and/or eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
That is a very difficult question to answer. I always like changing things on the menu or switching up flavors. I never want to get stuck in a rut, making the same thing over and over. But, if I had to pick one thing- it would probably have something to do with bread. Being an Asian restaurant, I don’t get many chances to make bread. I really love making croissants- making the dough, rolling out the layers, cutting and shaping the croissants. So many steps you could spend a lifetime trying to perfect. Maybe when I retire…?
What do you do when you’re not in the kitchen?
I feel I am one of those stereotypical chefs who fill every aspect of their lives with food and cooking. When I get a day out of the restaurant, I will go to the farmers markets just to see what is in season. I read other restaurants menus online. I start random projects at home that take up too much time and space. Right now I am growing mushrooms and fermenting my own barley miso from scratch. My girlfriend is very patient.
What is the most interesting fact about Buddakan that no one knows?
The army of prep cooks we have is amazing. Every morning over a dozen workers come in to peel fresh water chestnuts, clean bean sprouts, chop ginger and garlic by hand. Our dumpling wrappers are made from scratch, then rolled thin by hand before being used to make hargow, shumai, Szechuan pork dumplings, and more. Our ice creams and sorbets are all made in house. We make our own chocolate decor and sugar work. And all of this for over 1000 customers a night.
How would you describe the dessert menu at Buddakan?
We try to have a menu that is both exciting and adventurous for the diner, but also comforting at the same time. To achieve this, we may have a dessert like an apple tarte tatin or carrot cake- something very familiar to the average customer- but then we may try to modernize it and try to reinterpret it with Asian ingredients and flavors. So, the apple tatin has white miso and cinnamon in the puff pastry and is served with a toasted rice ice cream. The carrot cake is served with pickled raisins and carrots cooked with Szechuan peppercorns and brown rice syrup.
If you could give customers one tip for ordering at Buddakan, what would it be?
We try to make the plates as well balanced as possible, making sure the main component goes well with the ice cream, the sauces, even specifically choosing the garnishes and herbs that go on the plate. But sometimes I feel a big bowl of ice cream can be a great ending. We make a huge variety of fun flavors in house that vary from week to week- toasted rice, salted caramel, Vietnamese coffee, whiskey, cream cheese, black cardamom just to name some of what I have in the freezer this week. Adding a bowl of ice cream to the table is never a bad idea.
What are important factors to you when sourcing ingredients?
Flavor is always the first factor when sourcing an ingredient. Is the flavor strong, pure, unique, or clean? Is this a product that the ultimate example of that ingredient? That comes first for the desserts I make. But after that, you come to realize how precious and rare spices can be, and how much work it takes to make a quality product that is both good quality AND good for the world.
What menu item(s) do you make with our cinnamon?
Currently we are using Red Ape Cinnamon in our Apple Tarte Tatin with Toasted Rice Ice Cream. The Red Ape ground cinnamon is incorporated into the puff pastry, along with white miso. This yields a beautiful pastry that has a wonderful aroma from the cinnamon and a funky salty kick from the miso. We garnish the plate with granny smith apples that are compressed with a smoked cinnamon syrup. We take Red Ape cinnamon sticks and bury them half way in granulated sugar. We then set the tips of the cinnamon sticks on fire and quickly seal the entire pot up for an hour. The cinnamon sticks smoke and perfume the sugar, giving it a wonderful flavor and aroma. We add water to this mixture to make a burnt cinnamon simple syrup. This is then poured over granny smith apples and compressed under pressure. The dessert is a classic tarte tatin with miso caramel, smoked cinnamon apples, and toasted rice ice cream.
In the future, we are playing with carrots to make a carrot cake using the Red Ape ground cinnamon as well as a variety of other spices.
75 9th Avenue
New York, New York, 10011
Modern Asian Cuisine
Dress: Downtown chic, fun, hip
Monday: 5:30 pm – 11:00 pm
Tuesday & Wednesday: 5:30 pm – 12:00 pm
Thursday & Friday: 5:30 pm – 1:00 am
Saturday: 5:00 pm – 1:00 am
Sunday: 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm