FT33 pastry chef Josh Valentine dishes about everything but Top Chef Seattle
For now, the best-known name at FT33, the red-hot new restaurant in the Dallas Design District, is Matt McCallister. As it should be — after all, the much-buzzed-about chef founded the place.
However, by November 8 — the day after the November 7 premiere of Top Chef Seattle — McCallister will have some competition for the spotlight, when his pastry chef, Josh Valentine, emerges from relative obscurity to Bravo TV household name.
The show hasn't aired yet, but Valentine is already wearing the Bravo ankle monitor. To procure a basic phone interview about his role at FT33 required some hoop-jumping, plus two PR professionals listening in on the phoner to make sure no Top Chef plot points were revealed.
Valentine didn't start out as a pastry chef, but his hire represents FT33's outside-the-box approach to the category.
Valentine didn't start out as a pastry chef, but his hire represents the seriousness with which McCallister treats dessert as well as FT33's outside-the-box approach to the category. The two chefs met when they worked for Stephan Pyles. Valentine was also a sous chef at Samar.
"I was a line cook at Stephan Pyles," Valentine says. "That's the first time I worked with Matt, where we developed our kindred friendship. Everything grew from there. We kept in touch while I moved around.
"I guess what we might have in common is that we have a bad-ass image, but we're really intense and focused on what we're doing. That's why we get along so well — when we have our eyes set on something."
Even though he's never been a pastry chef full time, Valentine says he "jumped on the opportunity."
"I've done pastry and worked in restaurants where I was responsible for dessert, but to have the title of pastry chef is foreign," he says. "I'm not going to be doing typical pastry chef things like sugar sculptures or molded chocolate. We're just doing plated restaurant desserts, as a collaboration between me and Matt. It's fun and challenging.
"Part of being a chef is that you need to be well-rounded, to be able to do everything. This is another opportunity to showcase that."
"It's going to be unexpected," Valentine says. "I've worked in those restaurants that serve crème brûlée, and we're not going to have any of that."
Their approach to desserts will be similar to their approach to other courses.
"The big difference between our restaurant and any other restaurant in Dallas is that we're focused on techniques and plating aesthetics," Valentine says. "Aside from being hyper seasonal; we plan on changing the menu a lot, depending on what's in season.
"A lot of people have labeled the trend as 'new molecular,' but I don't like that label. But I like to do things that are a little savory, using fresh herbs, tarragon, basil, corn. My desserts will cross the border from savory to sweet.
"I also like the idea of changing textures and temperatures, so that what you see is familiar but at same time it's a surprise when you get it on the plate."
The chefs who inspire him include Johnny Iuzzuni, formerly of Restaurant Jean Georges in New York and Top Chef Just Desserts fame; Albert Adria, of famed molecular gastronomy temple El Bulli; and Michael Laiskonis, formerly of Le Bernardin in New York.
"All of those guys are forward-thinking pastry chefs and huge inspirations, my model as far as how I'm approaching pastries and want them to be done," he says.
"[FT33] is not going to be for everyone," Valentine says. "It's not for those guys who want to go to Del Frisco's and have a steak."
Valentine says that he and McCallister don't want to be tied down necessarily to a set menu — "we both have culinary ADD," he says — but there will definitely not be a predictable crème brûlée or chocolate cake.
"We'll have a chocolate dessert, but it’s not going to be just a chocolate cake; it might be a frozen chocolate mousse," Valentine says. "It's going to be unexpected. I've worked in those restaurants that serve crème brûlée, and we're not going to have any of that.
"That's one thing Matt has as his mission. He wants to stay adventurous. It's not going to be for everyone. It's not for those guys who want to go to Del Frisco's and have a steak. It's for people who want to have an experience with food and think about the food. We want to be inventive and creative, to look at it in a different way."
To that end, one ingredient he'll pull out from its current position of obscurity: bacon.
"I love bacon," he says. "I used to have a restaurant that revolved solely around pork. And chocolate — I'm a big chocolate guy. I plan to do a lot of things with chocolate that are going to be interesting. Right now we're working on a peanut butter and jelly dessert, with approachable flavors but abstract. The temperatures are going to be crazy."
Speaking of crazy, pastry chefs have a reputation for being finicky, obsessive, a little nuts.
"Chefs in general have a little insanity running through them," Valentine says. "Any person who chooses a career that involves working up to 18 hours a day with not a lot of glory — I think you have to be a little crazy to enter this field."