Aaron Toensing, Bix Pastry ChefJune 16, 2011
All chefs in the Bay Area rely on seasonal products to develop their menus but Aaron Toensing, pastry chef at Bix for the past 10 years, lives it more than most. He is a regular at the Saturday morning farmer’s market, and he arrives early, around 7 a.m., before the crowds. He hand-picks the majority of his produce and he knows which farmers have the best produce.
This week he was excited to find sour cherries which are rarely available because they are very perishable and aren’t grown as widely as sweet cherries like Bings. On the Bix dessert menu he made them into a compote and served them with an almond panna cotta.
Born and raised in Wisconsin, Aaron was making salads in a Minneapolis hotel when the pastry chef went on maternity leave. To help out he stepped in and has never looked back. He moved to San Francisco to attend the California Culinary Academy and then worked at Postrio under Janet Rikala.
Over Blue Bottle Coffee at The Ferry Building, I talked to Aaron about his sweet life.
EL: What flavors/ingredients do you like best?
AT: “Nectarines. I like to slow grill them for about 40 minutes. It’s so simple but it brings out their sweetness and vanilla flavor. This is best to do at home where you spend the time turning them and you can eat them right away. They don’t hold well. I like the sugar flavor better in nectarines than peaches. Although Indian Blood peaches that come out in September are really good.”
What flavors do you like least?
“Tropical fruits. I use them in the winter because you need fruit on the menu but because of shipping the flavors aren’t as good as our local seasonal fruits.”
What comes to mind when I mention the following? First, rhubarb.
“Strawberry rhubarb pie.”
“Never use it.”
“Our Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding. Brioche and a chocolate curd layered in a chocolate custard. It’s a staple at Bix.”
“Summer berry pudding. I use strawberries from Dirty Girl and raspberries from Yerena. I add some Syrah to the berry juices. It gives a nice balance to the berries.”
“What I start the day with. Also coffee ice cream. To make coffee ice cream I roast coffee beans and espresso grounds in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes before I add it to the hot milk and cream.”
“Coconut sorbet. A go to in winter”
What dessert has someone else created that you loved?
“The XXX- triple dark chocolate layer cake at Baker and Banker.”
Who has influenced your dessert style?
“Bruce Hill. He has a great palate both savory and sweet. He comes up with crazy ideas that actually work.”
What ingredients would you like to see appreciated more by diners?
“Pastry in general. Also rhubarb. It’s more popular in the Midwest. Here people don’t get how good it is.”
What kitchen tool would you be lost without?
“My microplane. I use it all the time. I even started grating hazelnuts. After I grate oranges, I push them through a chinois with a muddler. Four oranges will can yield about a tablespoon of the most amazing orange oil.”
Where do you like to eat out in the city?
“Nopa, Baker and Banker, Zuni. My wife and I cook at home a lot too.”
What was the last thing you made outside of work?
“Barbecued pork sugo with homemade pappardale. I have become obsessed with making pasta. There are only three ingredients but its surprising all the different variable that affect it.”
What’s your least favorite pastry trend?
What do people not know about you that you wish they did?
“Nothing. Everyone knows it all. I don’t have any secrets.”