Meryle Evans covers the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs annual conference at Manhattan’s Millennium Broadway hotel.
Over 400 members of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR) cheered and clapped for Sylvia Weinstock, grand dame of cake design, and New York pastry chef Gina de Palma, this spring when they were honored at the “Women Who Inspire” Awards Gala during WCR’s annual conference at Manhattan’s Millennium Broadway hotel.
Weinstock, who launched legendary Sylvia Weinstock Cakes in 1980, was on hand to accept the Barbara Tropp Lifetime Achievement Award, named for one of WCR’s founders who, with seven hospitality industry leaders, conceived the influential organization in 1992. De Palma, pastry chef at Babbo from the restaurant’s opening in 1998 until 2013, and named one of Dessert Professional’s Ten Best pastry Chef in 2005, received WCR’s Golden Bowl Award honoring excellence in pastry and baking. As De Palma, who is undergoing treatment for cancer, was unable to attend the event, WCR President Elizabeth Falkner accepted on her behalf.
The two day conference balanced the scale between sessions addressing important issues for culinary professionals and congenial raise-the-roof partying. In her keynote address Lydia Bastianich, one of WCR’s original organizers, urged attendees to “choose the right people, educate and stimulate them, give of yourself, share.” During a TED Talk style panel successful entrepreneurs did enthusiastically share the stories of their careers, recalling fears, triumphs, and failures. At Food Games, a live cooking contest, three teams, each with a celebrity coach, shared the preparation of a three course meal in twenty minutes per course. Pastry chef Sherry Yard’s team won best dessert for dumplings poached in orange and white wine, rolled in cinnamon bread crumbs with red berry marmalade, and chocolate Speculoos rochers.
Over five dozen local and out of town chefs pitched in to feed their peers from early breakfast chocolate waffles to after party dessert parade. With Callebaut and de Zaan as prominent sponsors, chocolate reined; caramel was a close second. A convivial networking lunch with a New York Neighborhoods theme included from lower East Side Root & Bone pastry chef Romina Peixot’s chocolate and caramel crunch, Brooklyn-based Erin Kanagy-Louis, Renard, chocolate yogurt and sorrel; and a gelato bar manned by Mame Sow, The Cecil and Minton’s in Harlem.
Sunday evening’s Studio 54-style disco bash concluded with desserts by more New York pastry chefs: Colleen Grapes of Oceana presented blueberry bread pudding with lemon and thyme, Lillet whipped cream; Lafayette’s Jennifer Yee made a double chocolate with pineapple cream, and salted praline cream puffs; and Paulette Goto offered coconut cake with passion fruit, macerated pineapple caramel and cilantro lime salt. Melissa Denmark, represented Gracie’s in Providence, Rhode Island with orange upside down cake, shoyu caramel, and whipped ginger ganache. Denmark also provided chocolate butterscotch pudding, olive oil Chantilly, Kalamata olive penuche and buckwheat shortbread for the Food & Wine after-party at Chef’s Club, along with Monica Ng of Sirio’s tiramisu push pops, and North End Grill Tracy Obolsky’s chocolate cornmeal pretzel bread pudding with milk chocolate custard.
For the Awards dinner, hosted by TV culinary stars Gail Simmons and Carla Hall, Milk Bar Christina Tosi’s grand finale was an Amoretti-spiked strawberry lemon cake.