Chef Peter Rios is the mastermind behind Chicago-based Alliance Bakery & Café, a haven of fine European pastries and desserts created using only the best ingredients, 82% butter, cream, seasonal fruits and premium chocolates. Alliance Bakery also takes a very green approach to baking by limiting waste and the use of unnecessary products like plastic, aerosols and other harmful products.
Rios, who also served as executive pastry chef at both the Fairmont Hotel Chicago and \Sofitel Hotel Chicago, took a moment to share his thoughts with Urban Vivant.
UE: What drew you to pastry?
Rios: My mom was a very good cook and our family always enjoyed her desserts. I would say she laid a solid foundation to good taste. We did travel every summer and I would always look forward to dining in good restaurants and eating out.
I began cooking when I was 10 years old. I remember experimenting with tapioca puddings, cinnamon oatmeal and scrambled eggs with hot dogs. I was not serious about cooking, it was just sometime I wanted to try, plus I was hungry. I also thought it was easy and not a big deal. It wasn’t until much later when I began to care about making something good to eat.
My first career as a Field Service Engineer, I had the opportunity to travel for the first 2 years . I tried the cuisines of New Orleans, New York, Texas and San Francisco. I was hooked and I had to learn how to make everything I was tasting. I began with a few cookbooks and started to make the dishes I had enjoyed. After 6 to8 months it felt second nature to me. I was able to absorb the concept of taste, balance and texture. I understood recipes and even began to alter recipes to make them better. For every meal I made I always tried a dessert. Art and Science being my 2 favorite subjects I always tackled a dessert as a tasty Art and Science project.
Soon I was making dishes and desserts for friends and family. I would host parties and be the cook at parties. I was always the “grill guy” for every cook-out.
Being an Art and Science buff, I was always drawn to perfecting the dessert I was making. Desserts and Pastries are much more of a Science. Cooking is more instinctive. I loved to cook, but Desserts were more of a challenge. I also was at that time getting requests for desserts and cakes. I soon began to loose interest as a Service Engineer and in computers. I decided to enroll at Kendall College and get formal training.
UE: How do you think pastry has evolved in the past ten years?
Rios: Unfortunately pastry in American has not evolved at the same rate as savory cuisine has. We are all more educated in Organic produce, Whole grains and flours and Ethnic foods. But the level of knowledge in desserts, pastries and chocolates pales in comparison to that of Europe, Asia and other developed countries. The typical American consumer does not know the difference between a Mousse or moussiline, a butter Croissant or a shortening Croissant or even the difference between a bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. The good news is that more and more quality Dessert Shops and bakeries are being opened by qualified Pastry Chefs.
UE: What are the key elements that contribute to successful dessert?
Rios: Taste, texture, balance and look.
UE: Would you be willing to share one of your favorite recipes?
Rios: Of course.
Lemon Chiboust with Blueberry Pinot Noir Compote and Hazelnut Ice Cream
10 oz heavy cream
4.5oz lemon juice
6 egg yolks
2.5T corn starch
11 egg whites
In a sauce pot, combine cream, lemon juice and 1/2 the sugar. Cook to a boil. In a bowl, whisk yolks, corn starch and the remainder of the sugar. Temper the liquid into the yolks and return to the sauce pot. Cook to a boil, remove from heat.
Place egg whites in a mixing bowl with a whisk attachment. Combine sugar and water, cook to 238° F. Add to egg whites, whip at high speed for two to three minutes. Combine meringue with lemon cream.
Blueberry Pinot Noir Compote
1 lb blueberries
4.5oz pinot noir
1/2 fresh lemon, juiced
2oz corn starch
2 turns of fresh black pepper
In a sauce pot, combine blueberries, lemon juice and sugar. Cook to a simmer. Mix pinot noir and corn starch, add to blueberries, add wine. Cook to a boil, reduce heat, simmer for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat, add black pepper and lemon juice. Let cool.
Hazelnut Ice Cream
1c. Vanilla Ice Cream
1oz Roasted Hazelnuts, chopped
pinch of salt
Fold in the Nutella, salt and chopped Hazelnuts into your Ice cream.
Spoon cooled Blueberries onto bottom of a shallow soup bowl. Cover top with Lemon Chiboust. Sprinkle 2 tsp of granulated sugar over top. Caramelize with a torch.( Optional)
Top with Hazelnut Ice cream.
For more information about Alliance Bakery and Peter Rios, be sure to visit their website.