Anthony Chavez, Executive Pastry Chef at 2941 in Falls Church, takes classic desserts and elegantly updates them with creative, seasonal touches. The fine dining restaurant serves modern takes on American French fare, and Chavez’s offerings include a Bailey’s ganache mousse, a pumpkin crémeux served with a root beer float, and a duo of egg-based desserts that pairs a crème brûlée with lemon floating islands. I would personally like to try all of them – New Years weight-loss resolutions be damned.
Originally from California, Chavez graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2001. He got his start at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago, working his way up to Executive Pastry Chef in three years. Before coming to 2941, he was the Executive Pastry Chef at the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower.
Chavez sat down with ModernDomestic before the holidays to talk about the dessert menu at 2941 (which looks delicious), the next big trend in pastry (he’s thinking petits fours), and where he likes to get dessert in DC.
MD: Why did you get into pastry?
AC: I went to culinary school and at the end of my internship I was given the opportunity to work in the pastry department. I stuck with it. It’s very precise, and there’s a lot of things you can specialize in. You can be a specialist in chocolate and candies, wedding cakes, plated desserts, sugar – there are lots of different aspects to pastry that are completely different from each other.
MD: So what’s your specialty?
AC: Plated desserts. They’re my favorite part about pasty and that’s why I work here. I love to make wedding cakes and chocolate candies, but I love the intensity of plated desserts. I try to encompass all aspects of pastry in a plated dessert – I can use a chocolate ganache that I’d use in a candy and use it in a plated dessert. Brioche is another good example – it’s traditionally a bread you eat for breakfast, but we use it all the time for plated desserts. You can make bread pudding with it, you can make French toast with it, etc.
MD: How do you describe your approach to pasty?
AC: I have a very classical French background – it’s how I was trained. I like to incorporate French techniques. I work with Bertrand Chemel, [2941’s Executive Chef] who’s from France, and our styles work very well together. I try to put a modern twist on the French classics.
MD: Do you ever cook at home?
AC: My wife and I met in culinary school and sometimes we’ll make pat a choux, eclairs, or brioche at home. We also sometimes like to make pie. We’ve made pecan pie, but instead we made an almond sablé dough and made a layer of sponge on the bottom. We took an American classic and made it French.
MD: What’s your favorite childhood dessert?
AC: Chocolate s’mores. When we go out to West Virginia we do marshmallows on the campfire. I also like Snickers bars and Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups.
MD: So what’s on the menu now at 2941?
AC: It’s wintertime, so we’re doing fall desserts that feature apples and pears. We’re doing a caramelized apple with a black walnut filling, served with calvados sorbet. We also have a German chocolate cake – it has chocolate flourless sponge on the bottom and coconut cream. And we’re serving poached pear and buckwheat flapjacks.
MD: What’s your favorite dessert on the menu?
AC: I’m very pleased with the way the apple came out. I wanted to see what we could do with apples and this is one we’ve done before. The dessert never included the frangipane, but Chemel tried it and said that what would remind him of his childhood would be frangipane. And we work with a lot of farmers and we were able to get black walnuts. Black walnuts are a little sour and bitter, and if you pair it with the caramel apple they complement each other.
MD: Since you work with local farmers, is that how you source all your ingredients?
AC: A lot of it is from local farmers. Of course, if we’re using citrus or something that isn’t grown here we use a purveyor. We also go to the supermarket because sometimes they have better produce, and sometimes I go to the McLean farmer’s market on my way to work in the summer. We also work with a woman who has a company called Fresh Link – she travels around the Culpeper area looking for farmers with good produce.
MD: Did you follow any of the controversy surrounding Founding Farmer’s food sourcing? The Washington Post did an article recently about how the restaurant has built its brand on using produce from local farms, but actually gets most of its food from large corporations.
AC: I haven’t read it, but now I’m going to. But, you know, this was a really tough year for the food crop. Apricots never happened, local strawberries were only a two week season. Raspberries and peaches were the only things that did well. It’s hard to work with small farmers because of the consistency. The farmers we work with – we try to find people that are reliable.
MD: What about dessert- any places you like to get dessert in DC?
AC: City Zen, Citronelle, Bourbon Steak. I really think that people are starting to figure it out, and are judging restaurants on desserts, more so than in the past. Before it was “so what can the chef do?” Now it’s “what else can the rest of the team do? Do you have a legit sommelier that knows about wine? Do you have a legit pastry chef?”
MD: Finally, I have to ask this question – do you think anything will replace cupcake trend?
AC: There’s so many cupcake shops – they’ve taken over so that people have lost the view of what a cupcake should be. I understand that some people are there to do something different, but some of us who have worked for many, many years on these techniques are getting overshadowed.
I think the trend restaurants are going to start focusing on petits fours. That’s your last chance to show off. Putting down a plate of tarts or gelees is a thing of the past. But I think people are doing some really nice stuff with petits fours and that’s where our focus is going to be.