Pastry in Milwaukee: Annie Ghobrial of Bartolotta's Restaurants
Annie Ghobrial grew up in Milwaukee. She studied at Drake University and abroad. But ultimately, her passion for the science and art tied up in the world of pastry led her to pursue her degree in Baking and Pastry Arts from Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, N.C.
Once she graduated from culinary school, Ghobrial found herself back at home, completing an internship with the Bartolotta Restaurant Group at Lake Park Bistro, where she honed her skills creating French classic desserts and pastries. In 2010, she was promoted to pastry chef and now oversees the pastry options for all the Bartolotta restaurants.
As they often say, it's a tough job, but someone has to do it. And Ghobrial has taken the challenge and run with it.
There is a certain wisdom in, not only offering the traditional pastry desserts that people have come to expect, but also exploring new modern takes on the classics. And Ghobrial is artful in her ability to re-envision tried-and-true desserts.
"People have a connection to the retro, old-school desserts, but I try to find a way to modernize them," Ghobrial explains. For her, modernization includes finding creative new uses for herbs and spices in her pastry-focused desserts.
Take, for instance, the Tarte au Citron at Lake Park Bistro. This dessert features a lemon tart served with mixed berries topped with honey-lavender meringue. The hint of lavender propels an otherwise traditional dessert onto a brand new plane.
But what's the story behind Ghobrial's success? And who has influenced her most in the kitchen? We asked Ghobrial to tell us a bit more about her background and her creative process.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did you end up choosing pastry as the route for your career?
Annie Ghobrial: I always liked cooking, but I really loved baking more. I liked the detail-orientated nature of it, the science that went behind it and the variety of options there were in baking and pastry.
OMC: What is it like managing the pastry options for so many restaurants?
AG: It's exciting and provides multiple challenges every day. Also, it is really nice to have different styles of restaurants to work with.
OMC: What does your typical work week entail?
AG: I am based at Lake Park Bistro and spend the majority of my time there. When the new restaurants like Joey Gerard's are opening I split my time between the different restaurants. If there is a special wine dinner or something then I will be at that particular restaurant for a day or two.
OMC: Do you have a favorite restaurant to create new things for?
AG: Lake Park Bistro for sure. We just rolled out a brand new dessert menu, which has been really exciting to work on.
OMC: I've been talking with pastry chefs about the lost art of pastry, and the old school techniques they see returning. What are some of the things you see coming back into practice?
AG: I think there is a large emphasis on really perfecting classic techniques and making them the best they can be. Things like pastry dough can be made a hundred ways, but finding the best one and the best vessel to express that is really important.
OMC: What classic techniques are you currently working to master?
AG: Right now we're working on making the perfect tarte tatin, combining the caramelized apples and pastry dough and finding the balance between the two.
OMC: Where would you place yourself on the continuum of classic to innovative? Why?
AG: My style is very classic. I think taking something classic and then adding a twist or an update to make it current is something very relatable for people.
OMC: Who are your biggest influences?
AG: My biggest influences are drawn from the ingredients we bring in, especially in the spring and summer. We are able to get some fantastic produce here and being able to showcase that in a way that best represents the fruit is really inspiring.
OMC: What's one of your favorite things you're working on right now?
AG: We have our second annual All-Dessert Dinner coming up on May 2 so I am currently working on that menu. The theme is chocolate this year, so the possibilities are endless.
OMC: In your work, what ingredient is currently over-used?
AG: I think it can be really easy to rely on some of the well-known spices like cinnamon or nutmeg and those tend to be over-used and become overwhelming in the dish.
OMC: What ingredient or flavor combinations do you feel are underrated and should be used more often?
AG: I think finding a way to use more "savory" spices and herbs in pastry can lead to some really fantastic flavor combinations.
OMC: What's your all-time favorite dessert?
AG: My great-grandma used to make a lemon meringue pie that was perfection. That's my all-time favorite dessert.
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