PW: You've been executive pastry chef at New York City's Gramercy Tavern since it opened in 1994. Why did you wait seven years to write The Last Course?
CF: I honestly didn't think I was ready until now. I didn't have a solid repertoire. I didn't have the confidence and I didn't have the time. When my agent, David Black, approached me, a big part of his job was convincing me that I should do a book.
PW: Have all of the desserts in the book been served at Gramercy Tavern?
CF: In one permutation or another. The desserts at the restaurant are component desserts, meaning they include several elements on one plate, so the book extrapolates the components and presents them individually.
PW: What was your process for writing restaurant recipes for home cooks?
CF: Melissa Clark was my recipe tester and co-author, and she tested everything at home. I have to say honestly that these recipes will produce desserts in a home kitchen that are as close as possible to what we serve in the restaurant, but they'll never be identical to what you get in a restaurant with three or four people plating a dessert. Also, making a full set of all the components is quite a time commitment. Very few people are going to do that at home.
PW: You're known for innovations such as using herbs in desserts. Where do your ideas come from?
CF: The catalyst is generally the season. Last week there were strawberries at the farmer's market, so there are three strawberry desserts being served now on the restaurant's various menus. From the seasonal item, I might move on to temperature and think about contrasting an icy sorbet with a creamy warm custard. I try to combine as many temperatures and textures as I can, provided the whole thing makes sense. The designer Jil Sander once said she strips everything away from clothing until it's at the bare minimum, but still makes sense and is as complete as it can possibly be. That results in clothing that's minimalist but complex. I feel the same way about my desserts. Doing things simply is very difficult, though. Everything is examined, because there's nothing to hide behind.
PW: What are you working on next? Will we have to wait seven years for another book?
CF: If I do another book I don't think it will take another seven years, but at this point I can't say I'm committed to doing another one. It's a full-time job on top of another very full-time job. It took a lot out of me. But I understand it's like childbirth—you forget how painful it is after everything is over and you're holding the baby-slash-book.