Orchids pastry chef creates masterpiece using her favorite fall ingredients
An edible work of art
Grace S. Yek, WCPO contributor
11:00 AM, Nov 14, 2015
11:04 AM, Nov 15, 2015
Remember the time you had a dessert so good, you couldn't stop grinning? Megan Ketover creates that kind of wizardry every day at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza downtown. She is the pastry chef for this establishment's multi-faceted dining experience, which includes the acclaimed Orchids at Palm Court.
I recently visited her to see how she uses her favorite fall ingredients: apples, Concord grapes, and apple cider. The “back-of-the-house” that supports this top-notch operation is massive, spanning four floors and numerous kitchens. I was only too happy to let Ketover lead me, through the labyrinth of kitchens and food stations, into the pastry kitchen on the second floor.
She’d lined up the ingredients to recreate the dessert the Orchids team presented at the James Beard Dinner in New York City in October: fromage blanc (white cheese) custard stuffed with Concord grape gel, replete with poached apples, hazelnut financier (a type of cake), honey gastrique (tart and sweet sauce), caramelized white chocolate and citrus nectarines.
The apples come from the Hill Family Farm in Xenia. The culinary brigade here cultivates exemplary relationships with local farmers, producers, and conduits like the Ohio Valley Food Connection. They’re serious about handcrafted food too. They make their own cheeses, keep their own beehives, and dry-age a wide selection of meat.
Ketover pointed to the Concord grape puree next to the pan of apples and said, “I went to pick four bushels three weeks ago in Hidden Valley in Lebanon.” Her entire team peeled and prepared every grape to make the prized puree. “We can turn this into sorbet, or dehydrate it to make a really concentrated grape flavor we can put into icing to fill French macarons. We make sure every bit of it is used,” she added.
For this dessert, however, Ketover turned the grape puree into fluid gel with the use of agar powder. Then, she used a melon baller to make perfectly round mini apple balls, which she poached in cider.
As Ketover poured the honey gastrique into a squeeze bottle, she was careful not to spill a single drop. “I fed these bees. I got stung by these bees,” she said. The honey comes from the beehives on the rooftop. “Each bee only makes a teaspoon of honey in its life. You can’t waste that.”
Ketover brought out a disc-shaped fromage blanc, which was, not surprisingly, house made. She cut out a hole in the center, which would later be filled with grape gel. She went on to spray it with white chocolate to create a wispy shell.
She disappeared into the walk-in refrigerator, and emerged with a hefty 12-quart container of caramelized white chocolate, spiced with ras-el-hanout, a Middle-Eastern spice blend. Ketover deftly glided a warm spoon into the container, and formed three quenelles (oval spoonfuls) of white chocolate.
With the main components in place, Ketover was ready to plate the dessert. In a precise choreography of about a dozen steps, tweezers in hand, the plating was a process to behold. The components were tucked, huddled, dotted and stacked to produce an edible work of art.
In case you’re wondering, the components that made it onto the plate are: Fromage blanc, hazelnut financier, grape gel, compressed nectarine (citrus-infused nectarine), poached apples, honey gastrique, edible flowers, huckleberries, caramelized spiced white chocolate quenelles, hazelnut praline, and thrice-painted chocolate garnish.
Don’t try this at home, kids.
Grace Yek is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Connect with her @Grace_Yek.