Sierra Mar’s Jamie Jarrard offers an exclusive peek into what makes her treats soar.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Noon in the kitchen at the award-winning Sierra Mar at Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn – rated first in California for cuisine in the 2003 Zagat – may appear to the outsider as a whirlwind of quick-moving chaos.
Breadmaker Asa Kesner, who’s been on call since 3am, removes final batches of artisan bread from the ovens before wrapping up his shift. Waiters start filing in to taste and learn about the day’s specials before their shifts begin. The chef and the sous chef simmer stocks, soups and do all the butchering and specialty charcuteries. Fragments of songs are happily sung in Spanish.
But as frenzied as the scene appears, it’s actually an organized, well-thought-out operation. Everyone is acutely alert and knows what his or her tasks are. Each avoids hundreds of opportunities for a collision.
Thirty-year-old Jamie Jarrard, the executive pastry chef of almost five years, is also in the mix, planning out the day’s dessert menu. Tall and slender, with long, blond hair braided into two long golden ropes that meet near the center of her back, she maneuvers around the kitchen with elegance, crafting the lattice tops to miniature ricotta cheese tarts that will be served with poached apricots, lemon verbena ice cream and raspberry-red currant sauce. She says the tiny pies, like most of her recipes, are a unique take on something she found in an obscure, vintage cookbook from the ’70s.
Jarrard’s daily responsibilities entail putting together a menu of three different desserts every night, plus four petit fours (price is included in the prix fixe $110 or can be ordered à la carte for $18 each). She also creates a three-dessert lunch menu ($9-$15), which changes seasonally and currently includes chocolate strawberry shortcake with strawberry ice cream and chocolate chip biscuit.
Jarrard’s right hand is Alfredo Hurtado, a 10-year veteran of the Sierra Mar kitchen, an imperative piece of the dessert procedure, and a man who is always aware of what his chef is working on and always readying for the next step.
How did Jarrard someone obtain such a prestigious position at a world-renowned eatery at the age of 25?
It wasn’t so much because she trained at the esteemed French Culinary Institute in NYC, nor because she studied under the master tutelage of Jacques Torres, one of the world’s most famous pastry chefs, though that helped.
Jarrard’s success is more directly the result of everything she taught herself, spending years learning French technique and recipes from classic cookbooks. She figured out at an early age how to create dessert menus inspired by embracing the seasonal and fresh produce from local growers, home gardens and farmers markets.
“You can create things that bring back nostalgic memories of childhood for people,” Jarrard says. “And it can be done in a colorful and incredibly artistic way.”
At the Post Ranch, there are two onsite gardens Jarrard and exec chef Craig von Foerster utilize just about every day. She incorporates everything from organic rose geranium, spearmint and lavender to lemon verbena, orange thyme and fraises des bois (wild alpine strawberries) into her daily creations.
Today, she grabs some basil for a three-ingredient key lime pudding with strawberry-basil sorbet and roses for a rose-petal-strawberry semifreddo with flourless chocolate cake, dark chocolate sauce and strawberry coulis.
When it comes down to it, Jarrard stresses that the key to preparing her sumptuous desserts is this: Always taste while you cook, and remember to adhere to the wise words of Torres: “Life is short. Eat dessert first.”
Three-Ingredient Simple Key Lime Pudding
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup key lime juice
(Jarrard uses limes picked from trees on Apple Pie Road)
1 cup sugar
Bring the lime juice and sugar to a boil, then keep warm. Bring cream to a boil and slowly mix in lime and sugar liquid. Strain through a fine chinois and pour into desired dishes. Let cool for 2 hours or until set.
1 pound strawberries
(washed and hulled)
Sugar and lemon juice
1 cup water
4 leaves basil
Puree all in blender until smooth. Add more lemon or sugar to your desired taste. For sorbet, spin in an ice cream machine. For granita, freeze in pan and fluff with a fork every 20 minutes. Add chiffonade (thin strips) of fresh basil at end.
Lavender Crème Brûlée
2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons dried lavender
1/2 cup sugar
Yolks of 5 eggs
Heat the cream with vanilla bean and dried lavender to boil and let it steep for 10 minutes. Whisk the yolks until pale yellow then temper in liquid by adding it slowly while whisking so as not to cook the eggs. Strain through a fine chinois and bake at 325 degrees in ramekins in foil-covered water bath (1/2 way up the sides of the dishes) until custard is set. Let cool for 2 hours, then sprinkle sugar and torch until golden.