Unlike most pastry chefs, who focus their attention and talent on one menu, Adam Thomas is tasked with quite a different challenge.
As executive pastry chef of The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, Colo., Thomas manages and oversees all pastry and baking at the resort’s eight restaurants, including the five-star, Five Diamond Penrose Room, plus two cafés, banquets, weddings and room service for 800 rooms. He is involved firsthand with the creation and execution of new menu items, and makes sure each dessert experience at the resort’s different outlets is unique. In other words, it is an undertaking not for the faint of heart.
Thomas recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurants News about the challenges of his current role, fall cooking and his favorite ingredient, chocolate.
How many menus do you oversee? What does your position entail day to day?
We have eight full-service restaurants that change menus seasonally and two pastry shop cafés. We also have an extensive banquet and catering operation where we feed anywhere from 10 to 2,000 people a day. While I wish I could say I spend most of my day cooking, that would be a lie. I get in and spend about 10 to 15 minutes with the executive chef, discuss any concerns, issues, budgets, forecast, etc. Then I’m off to the bakery to check in with the team and spend some time with our executive baker, then a visit to the main banquet pastry kitchen to go over the day’s events with the sous chef. After this I start my restaurant rounds, where I spend time with the chef de cuisine in each outlet, as well as the pastry chef. In the afternoon I work my way up to the chocolate room to spend some time with the folks I have there who do all the chocolate production, special celebration cakes, amenities and dessert production for the Penrose Room.
Absolutely. We have very clear and distinct concepts for our restaurants and we want to be as true to the concept as possible. For example, we have Summit Restaurant, which is an upscale American Brasserie. We don't want to serve Italian cannolis here, but rather something like a perfectly made crème brulee or clafoutis. One of the great amenities we have here at The Broadmoor is that you can stay on the property for several days and have a very different and unique dining experience every night.
What is the most challenging aspect of juggling so many different things at once?
Property-wide we have about 42 people in the pastry and baking departments. I really wish I could spend more one-on-one time with each of those individuals. Unfortunately, most of my interactions with the team members are very quick and business-focused.
Are you involved hands-on with the creation of new menu items?
Absolutely. Two to three weeks out I will sit down with the pastry chef on duty and start putting ideas down on paper. After we have our ideas together we start putting recipe packs together. About one week before the change we start cooking. This is where we decide what works and what doesn't. We do a tasting for the service staff and after a week of the menus being in place we revisit it to evaluate what is selling, what isn't, production, etc.
What are some of your most popular desserts?
Most pastry chefs can contest that chocolate is a favorite. We have a Coupe Café on the menu at Summit that is very popular. The dessert is a brandy snifter that has a milk chocolate coffee cremeux, chocolate streusel, espresso ice cream and a dulcey Grand Marnier espuma. The glass is topped with a chocolate disc and hot chocolate sauce is poured tableside, melting the disc and creating a very dramatic presentation. People love it.
Fall flavors and chocolate
What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
Chocolate. I have been fascinated with chocolate for years. I try to really advance my knowledge of chocolate as much as possible. I just recently returned from a three-day chocolate class in the south of France. The year before I was in Switzerland learning about fat crystallization from a food scientist. Each outlet has at least one chocolate dessert, and we have a designated chocolate room where we produce anywhere from 10 to 13 different types of bon bon, enrobed praline, panning nuts and more. Our milk chocolate, peanut-butter-caramel-enrobed chocolate sells like crazy.
With fall upon us, what flavors can we expect from the restaurants at The Broadmoor?
Fall is my favorite time to cook and develop menus. We are cooking a lot with apple, pear and citrus. Obviously pumpkin is on the menu. At the Penrose Room my favorite dessert right now is the Tarte au Chocolat. We do a gianduja-based chocolate. [Gianduja is a sweet chocolate hazelnut paste.] We cut the tart into long narrow wedges and garnish the top very organically with the rest of the dish’s elements, which are milk chocolate chantilly, salted chocolate powder, blood orange sorbet and hazelnut caramel. It is beautiful and delicious. At the Summit we serve profiteroles with fall ice creams to include pumpkin ice cream, pecan ice cream and brown butter ice cream. The profiteroles are baked with a pecan croquant on top for texture. The dish is finished with warm spiced chocolate sauce served tableside.
Are there any current trends you are noticing in the dessert world?
Yeah, back to the goods! We were all hypnotized and distracted by the beautiful and thought-provoking techniques of the Spanish cooking revolution and the dreaded phrase, ‘molecular gastronomy.’ While this was a great and educational time for professional chefs, the guests were telling us, ‘I just want a cookie or a piece of pie. I don't know what a hydrocolloid is and I don't want one.’ Diners want something that is familiar. More specific trends would include revisiting some of the classics. Obviously macaroons and cupcakes are holding strong, but I see baba, mille feuille and éclairs making a comeback. American childhood favorites are also popping up more and more. We have a new restaurant-bowling alley called PLAY where we have a strawberry pop tart and peanut butter whoopie pies on the menu. Awareness of gluten could also be considered a trend. We try to have gluten-free options available as much as possible.
What are you doing now that has you most excited?
We are very excited and are gearing up for our new Italian restaurant, Ristorante del Lago, opening next spring. The concept of the restaurant is rustic, regional Italian cuisine. I spent five weeks in southern Italy a couple of years ago and have since been eager to apply what I learned there. We will be offering a dessert trolley showcasing traditional Italian desserts and biscotti, like panna cotta, tiramisu, bombolini and torta della nonna.
Contact Charlie Duerr at [email protected].