Over the next few weeks we will be introducing our new class of Chefs to Watch for 2016. Today we have a Q&A with Chef Ruby Bloch of Meauxbar, Sylvain, and Cavan. On October 20, 2016, we will host a dinner to showcase the talents and achievements of our 2016 Chefs to Watch in the New Orleans French Quarter at Marche´. Tickets to the dinner can be purchased online here.
Chefs to Watch: You grew up in New York and New Jersey. What brought you to New Orleans?
Ruby Bloch: I went to Penn State for undergrad, and was involved with Reform University Fellowship. We came to New Orleans in 2011 for spring break of my junior year, and helped with some rebuilding work. I fell in love with the city then. I always thought I’d move to New York or Philadelphia, but I wanted to be a teacher and it was hard to find jobs there.
When I graduated, I moved to New Orleans to look for a teaching job. I was working at Coquette as a hostess and server and substitute teaching all that summer. I was applying to schools for full-time jobs when I was offered a pastry position at Coquette.
CTW: How long did you work with the team from Coquette?
RB: I worked at Coquette and Sweet Olive for about year. Sweet Olive was the first restaurant inside the Saint Hotel, and Michael Stoltzfus — the chef at Coquette — opened that restaurant with a lot of the team from Coquette.
After a year there, I left and went to wait tables and general manage at SoBou. I was there for a year or so before joining the team at Le Foret. It was while I was there that Kristen Essig reached out to me about the Meauxbar job.
CTW: What are the challenges of managing a pastry program across three restaurants — Meauxbar, Cavan, and Sylain?
RB: Communication is the hardest part. There are so many people I have to communicate with and manage, and I’m only one person. Think about how many front-of-house managers there are at each location, or how many bar managers I need to talk to about whether we carry certain spirits. When I need to check on ingredients or let people know about changes in the pastry program, I have to talk to a lot of people.
Communication also runs the other way. When something goes wrong, I need someone to communicate with me so that I can handle it as quickly as possible. No matter whether you are a chef at one restaurant or multiple restaurants, control of quality is always the difficult thing. You have to trust the people you train. It helps when we all communicate and work together.
CTW: Do you have any baking tips for readers at home?
RB: Don’t trust times in a recipe. If it says “bake for 30 minutes,” don’t just set a timer for 30 minutes. Set a timer for 15 minutes, and then start checking it. You have to use your senses and keep an eye on what you are baking. It’s more art than science.
Baking guides always talk about carefully measuring your ingredients, but it’s even more important to know which ingredients really matter for measurement. Like if you’re baking a cake, you have sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, all of that stuff. If you know the baking powder is more important than the flour and sugar for the mix, you know you need to be more careful when measuring it.
CTW: Proofing yeast frightens me. I love to cook, but baking bread is intimidating. Do you have any encouragement?
RB: I’ve felt similarly, but you have to delve into something and just do it. I would say pick a simple bread to start with, something where you make the dough, let it rest, and bake it. Don’t do something with a starter the first time. Learn, then try the next most difficult bread.
What’s cool about pastry is that the breads I am originally most scared of become my favorite things to bake. The thing that was once a scary beast has been conquered. It’s an awesome feeling.
CTW: What is an easy bread to start with?
RB: I made this English Muffin bread the other week, and it was great. It tastes just like English Muffin, but you bake it in a loaf pan and can slice it. There’s some corn flour on the outside, but it’s mainly eggs, yeast, flour, and into a pan to rest for 45 minutes. Then sprinkle the corn-meal on top, and throw it into the oven. It’s a great easy starter.