On the dessert menu at Varietal in New York City there's not a snowball's chance in hell you'll find anything your grandmother ever made. No, pastry chef Jordan Kahn is more interested in challenging you with desserts such as Wolfberry, which consists of lime sabayon, tonka bean, broken macaroons and katjap manis (an exotic Indonesian spice). It would be easy to dismiss such a creation as that of an unfocused 23-year-old, but eating is believing.
New York Magazine praised Kahn for his "series of Jackson Pollock-style desserts," but you have to wonder how this CubanAmerican kid who grew up in Savannah, Georgia, eating ropa vieja wandered so far from home. As it turns out, his mother gave her 13-year-old son a copy of chef Thomas Keller's French Laundry cookbook. And a mere four years later, Kahn landed a job at the French Laundry in Napa Valley as part of a four-man pastry team.
During the proceeding four years, he worked for several Savannah restaurants and graduated from Johnson & Wales (in only eight months). Once at the French Laundry, Kahn impressed all with his precision and ability to think outside the box. Later, when Keller opened his acclaimed Per Se in New York, he asked Kahn to come along. There he was third in command under Sebastien Rouxel.
At Per Se, he laid the groundwork for his cutting-edge desserts. His use of savory ingredients such as aloe, red pepper and avocado landed him on the cover of Time Out New York magazine for best food presentation. In 2005, Kahn left Per Se to accept a postion at chef Grant Achatz's Alinea in Chicago. Working under pasry chef Alex Stupak, he further developed his convention-defying style.
Now as the head pastry chef at Varietal, Kahn's dessert menu is getting huge notice, particularly for his use of ingredients rarely, if ever, used in sweet confections. Consider his Folded Mango, which employes taro root puree, coffee genoise and tamarind; Celery Root Abstract, with fenugreek toffee, coca nib, yogurt and cherry wood ice cream; and Rhubard with white asparagus, black licorice, verbena and bitters.
Wow, what would Granny think?