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Michelle Polzine Pastry Chef at Range Restaurant

November 17, 2011

When I first met Michelle Polzine, pastry chef at Range, I was immediately drawn in by her sense of humor, energy and smile. But within five minutes I realized behind this friendly demeanor there’s also a woman serious and extremely passionate about her desserts.

Born in Bellflower in Southern California she grew up in 6 different cities before moving to Portland when she was 19. On a whim she moved to North Carolina. To pay the rent she started washing dishes at a local restaurant. As she explained “it was not as glamorous as one thinks it is” so she quickly proved herself and became a cook.

To get to the employee bathroom you had to walk through the pastry department. She would see the cooks working quietly peeling apples and melting chocolate and envied that environment to the crazy savory side of the kitchen. She finally got her entrance into this as she describes it “secret society” when a pastry cook was too drunk to work.  They called her to fill in. She said she would come in on her day off and help but they had to give her an additional shift in the pastry department. She never went back to the hot line. Her first pastry chef job was at Elaine’s in Chapel Hill.

In 2002 she and her husband (who she met in the first week she moved to North Carolina) moved to San Francisco. Here she has worked at Bacar, Lulu and Delfina. She also was an associate professor at The California Culinary Academy for a short time.

Michelle doesn’t have formal pastry training. She learned from books. Betty Crocker, Chez Panisse Desserts, Baking with Julia, and Stars Desserts were among her favorites.

Earlier this week we sat down at Blue Bottle Coffee in the Ferry Building and talked pastry.

EL: What flavors/ingredients do you like best?

MP: Fruits of all kinds. They’re one of the reasons I moved to San Francisco. The variety and availability is amazing. I love all berries, dates, pomegranates and stone fruit. Grapes and persimmons are wonderful to eat but there aren’t that many different ways to incorporate them into desserts.

 

What flavors/ingredients do you like least?

Nothing really, sometimes combinations can be wrong but individually they are all good.

What dessert or flavor first comes to mind when I mention the following ingredients?

Rhubarb- Tart

Passion fruit- Ginger cake with passion fruit caramel and coconut cream- It’s on my dessert men now.

Chocolate-Mast Brothers from Brooklyn

Berries- Seascape Strawberries from Lucero or Dirty Girl

Coffee- cold brewed coffee granita

Almonds-croquante

What dessert has someone else created that you loved?

Nicole Krasinski’s financier with plums or tangerines (whichever is in season) and olive oil gelato. Nicole makes smart desserts.

Who has influenced your dessert style?

Delfina, Claudia Fleming, Chez Panisse and Emily Luchetti (sorry but she really said me)

What ingredient would you like to see used more in the pastry kitchen or appreciated by diners?

Figs, dates and prunes.

What kitchen tool would you be lost without?

My hands

What’s your least favorite pastry trend?

Pastry trends

What do people not know about you that you wish they did?

I am pretty transparent. People see all of me.

Where do you like to eat out in the city?

I like the tacos at La Taqueria. Even without my employee discount I would like eating at Range.

What was the last thing you made outside of work?

Strudel for a friend’s birthday

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