Spago's Pastry Chef Masters the Art of Calm
Pastry chef Della Gossett used to teach kids about art and cooking in her hometown of Chicago.
Photo by Ryan Orange
To command the pastry kitchen at Spago, you've got to be somewhat superhuman. The sheer volume of diners, private parties, VIPs and special requests makes it easy for a mere mortal to snap. But that's not how Della Gossett rolls.
Gossett is deeply experienced in maintaining equilibrium, and that training did not take place in the kitchen.
"When you yell at someone, they shut down," she says. "They can hear what you're saying better when you say it in a calm voice."
If that sounds less like a fine-dining pastry chef than a grade-school teacher, it should come as no surprise that Gossett spent five years teaching art at schools in her hometown of Chicago. She learned a lot from that experience, as well as from that city's favorite culinary son, Charlie Trotter. For nearly a decade, she ran the pastry show at Trotter's two-Michelin–starred eponymous restaurant. While on Trotter's payroll, Gossett trained with Ferran Adrià of elBulli and studied with master confectioner Ramon Morato in Spain. Just as important to her career, though, is the mentoring she provided middle school and high school students in the Charlie Trotter Excellence program.
"What did you do today to achieve excellence?" she'd ask the 20 pupils who would gather in the restaurant's studio kitchen. It's something she asks herself daily.
Gossett also joined the Pilot Light Project, a collaboration with White House assistant chef Sam Kass, which brought chefs into public schools to teach about healthy eating as part of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign.
In 2012 Gossett returned to the restaurant scene, moving to Los Angeles, where she took the reins of the pastry kitchen at Spago after her friend, outgoing Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard — who happens to be one of the most celebrated and creative pastry chefs in America — put in a word to Wolfgang.
It was a high-pressure assignment, but Gossett immediately hit it off with Puck. She describes the iconic, Austrian-born chef as a constant inspiration and, given his passion for sweets, he's extra invested in Gossett's ingredient-driven menu, sometimes collaborating with her on dishes.
The wealth and breadth of California's produce — something Gossett didn't always have access to in Chicago — provides another source of inspiration. She utilizes market-fresh fruits in the majority of her desserts, which she presents in a visually arresting way. With her fine-arts background, she nails composition, placing quenelles, micro herbs and sauces on the plate with a delicate, almost impressionistic hand. The result is like something you'd find in nature, and a departure from Yard's more whimsical creations.
Gossett's menu is divided into two sections: "From the Market" and "Chocolate." For the former, she might oven-roast pineapples and Bartlett pears in maple syrup and infuse Earl Grey tea into a light cassis sorbet. For the latter, she's been known to whip up espresso foam alongside chocolate brulee cookies and craft warm truffles and chocolate bonbons in a light pool of frothy almond cream.
There is no question that she has achieved excellence.
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