For two months now, Palena has found ways to keep the dessert menu fresh since pastry chef and co-owner Ann Amernick announced her retirement in April to promote her new cookbook, The Art of the Dessert. Apparently the improvised system is working well enough that chef/owner Frank Ruta plans to keep it in place.
No one, in other words, will replace the oft-decorated Amernick at Palena, which is perhaps how it should be.
“We’re kind of handling it internally right now,” Ruta says during a phone chat. “I feel pretty confident [with] what we’re putting out and what direction we’re heading. I don’t know if we need to have a pastry chef per se right now…In the future, who knows? We’ve had some people that’ve applied that seem interested, but it just seemed to be a position that we don’t really need right now.”
The dessert chores now fall on the shoulders of Ruta and a couple of line cooks. “Most of the people we have here, wherever they are on the totem pole…they still have a certain amount of talent and they still have a certain way that they’re expected to work, and we just carry that through into pastry,” Ruta says. “Certainly there are things that they know they have to be more careful of, so that we don’t get any cross flavors in with the pastry department.”
For those of you who consider sweet and savory cooking at odds with one another—-sort of like scientists (dessert chefs) vs. artists (savory chefs)—-Ruta will quickly disavow you of that notion for his restaurant. “Everybody has a calculator on their station, and everything is done with some kind of calculation, so that everything is consistent every time, whether it’s for soups or sausages or sauces,” he says. “Everything’s done a certain way, so they’re already in tune with weighing and calculating and some of that stuff. So it’s not that far a reach for us to translate that into the pastry department.”
Amernick fans need not fear that Ruta has completely overhauled the dessert menu. Several of Amernick’s classics remain, Ruta says, including her cookies, chocolate toffee torte, and DeMayo chocolate cake.