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Take 5 with Belinda Leong

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Title: Pastry Chef, Restaurant Gary Danko
Home town: San Francisco

1. How did you become a pastry chef?
You know the happiness people get from good food? That's what drew me to cooking.

I fell into pastry. I went to culinary school at City College but I didn't learn too much about pastry there. I did savory first. But I'm a picky eater and I realized I can't cook savory stuff if I can't try it. I can eat a lot more sweets.

2. What are your favorite fruits?
Strawberries and lemons. I just love berries. Lemons are so versatile and such a flavor enchancer. I think strawberries go with everything--in breakfast items, in desserts, panna cotta, crepes, with chocolate...

3. If you could take one thing off every menu in America what would it be?
Warm chocolate cake is so played out. I see it on every menu now. But our clientele really likes rich chocolate. My ultimate dessert is basically chocolate chocolate chocolate. It's three layers of chocolate--a rice crispy hazelnut base with chocolate ganache and a whipped cream lightened ganache mousse and a bittersweet chocolate sorbet.


4. What big trends do you see in desserts?
Deconstructed desserts. I saw one deconstructed dessert cake with a pile of cherries and alcohol on the side. But who wants to drink a shot of kirsch? It can only go so far if it's just components.

Pastry here is about comfort. On the East Coast there are more components to dessert. Here a lot of people do a tart with ice cream but I would add one more component. My style is comfort redefined.

Another trend is fun desserts from childhood. For instance I make a PBJ, it's a peanut butter mousse and jam, filo instead of bread and milk ice cream. It's fun flavors. Lately I've been playing with the "got milk" idea. I'll make something like milk foam or milk ice cream to go with rich foods.

On the menu right now I like the lemon souffle cake with raspberry swirl ice cream. Lemon souffle cake is getting to be common, but it's so good. Lemon pudding cake or fallen souffle cake--it's like the new molten chocolate cake.

5. What do your order when you go out to breakfast, sweet or savory?
Breakfast is my favorite meal. I always like to order sweets. I'll order french toast, pancakes, waffles. I don't really like eggs.

When dining, I'll order 2 or 3 desserts. Crepes, anything with berries, citrusy fruits, I like panna cotta a lot. Delfina makes a good one. Panna cotta makes me really happy.

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