David Guas’ new cookbook, DamGoodSweet, practically drips with sugar. The down-home, unfussy New Orleans style desserts like sweet corn cake with root beer syrup, lemon doberge cake, and pecan and brown butter ice cream are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. But Guas’ book also overflows with memories; each recipe is accompanied by a story of his life growing up in New Orleans. The recipes don’t just give directions – they document the bakeries, stores, and local food vendors of Guas’ youth, a landscape that hurricane Katrina permanently altered.
Guas moved to the DC area from New Orleans 11 years ago, after working as a pastry chef at Windsor Court Hotel, to open DC Coast. He served as the Executive Pastry chef for Passion Food Hospitality restaurants until 2007, overseeing the desserts for Ten Penh, Ceiba, and Acadiana. Guas left to form his own consulting company, DamGoodSweet, in 2007. Faithful readers will remember that one of his consulting projects was developing the cupcakes for the Red Velvet Cupcakery. Guas is currently looking to open his own bakery – appropriately named the Bayou Bakery – although he has yet to find the perfect space.
Guas sat down with ModernDomestic last week, where we talked about nostalgia baking, desserts with the Granny factor, and what he likes to cook with his two sons.
MD: How did you end up working in pastry?
DG: I’m an “accidental” pastry chef. I applied in the kitchen at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, and all they had open at the time was in the pastry department. After some persuading, the master pastry chef decided to hire me, but only if I wouldn’t make him regret his decision.
MD: Once you got your foot in the door – at any time did you think you’d move back down into the kitchen?
DG: That was my mindset in the first couple months. But the next thing you know, I started getting pushed around shift-wise to a lot of different shifts, and I was always finding something new and interesting to learn in that department. The executive chef at the time was Jeff Tonks and he took an interest in me. Before I knew it I was collaborating on the menu with the executive pastry chef and playing around with desserts at home. Jeff offered me a position to open his restaurant – DC Coast in the summer of ’98.
MD: How would you describe your approach to cooking?
DG: The way I cook in the book is the way I like to eat – you can dive into a bowl of pudding, or a not-so-sweet, nontraditional red velvet cake. It’s a pretty true marker of how I consider myself as a person – these are down home and any-day-of-the-week kind of desserts. They’re not overly fussy. It’s a break from that à la carte mentality of component desserts – where you got your main dessert with a sauce and a crisp and a tart. The style of the restaurants I came from was fussy.
But with the economy, more people are cooking at home, and they really don’t cut out desserts because they’re trying to save money. If anything you need it more so now than ever, because it tells you that everything’s going to be okay. I call it the granny factor. There’s a lot of desserts that have the “G” factor.
MD: “Nostalgia” desserts are pretty trendy these days – do you think they’re here to stay?
DG: Nostalgia never went anywhere. It was masked by other fancy things. That’s the beautiful thing about what those type of desserts are – they’re going to stand the test of time. The restaurants that aren’t struggling as much right now are those ones with mid price points, that know where their products come from. A great example is Elevation Burger – they fry their fries in olive oil, and the burgers are delicious. You know where the beef comes from. I don’t mind paying for that.
MD: Do you ever bake with your kids?
DG: All the time. We’ll do the simple things, like cookies and brownies on the weekend. Anther thing I do is stove-top puddings. They actually adore my chocolate and banana pudding.
MD: How did Hurricane Katrina influence the book?
DG: That was the motivation – I wanted to get the stories [of New Orleans] down for my two sons, and to document the restaurants and the sweet shops.
MD: Are there any bakeries in the book that aren’t there anymore?
DG: Lawrence’s Bakery [also called Mr. Wedding Cake], and McKenzie’s Bakery. Mr Wedding Cake – that was right near my dad’s office, and McKenzie’s was pretty much everywhere around the city. McKenzie’s closed, but not because of the storm – but Lawrence’s did.
MD: Do you have a favorite bakery in DC? I ask this partially for my own purposes – I really want to find a good bakery in the DC area.
DG: I don’t go to a lot of bakeries, I really don’t. If I want brownies and I don’t want to make them myself I’ll go to Artisan Confections. Saturday only he makes these Valrhona brownies that are the bomb. And he does chocolates too.
But my entire neighborhood wants me to open a place. We have Randolph’s and Heidelberg’s, and they are what they are. They’re not going to change, and they’re not going anywhere. But I bring a youthful energy to desserts.
MD: So what’s the current plan for the Bayou Bakery?
DG: Bayou Bakery plans haven’t changed, it’s just a matter of finding a space. I talk to my broker every day now. I’m looking for a turnkey operation, and those are hard to come by.
MD: Any recipes from the book you plan to sell?
DG: One hundred percent of them. We’ll have king cakes during carnival – everything. It’s my opportunity not to do the à la carte stuff.
MD: One more question – where do you like to eat in DC?
DG: I love Brasserie Becks – I love going there and getting a beer and some mussels. I love the salads. I love sitting at the bar at Ceiba or Ten Pehn. Black Salt – Jeff Black’s restaurants, is really close to our house – just across the chain bridge. Phenomenal food, great product, great menu.