Serious Eats: Chicago

Behind the Sweets: Dana Cree's Take on Mont Blanc at Blackbird

[Photographs: Lindsey Becker]

When Dana Cree invited me into her world of desserts at Blackbird, I was obviously excited, but I had no idea the outrageous experiences in store for me. Not only was I serendipitously around for a 15th anniversary toast before the start of service, but I also got to talk to Dana during a staff meal of chicken curry and coconut cake (that night staff meal happened to be Thai themed). With over ten years of experience in the culinary world, Dana shared some fascinating insights into what being a pastry chef is all about.

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Though she is now in charge of desserts at both Blackbird and Avec, Dana didn't always know sweets were her calling. After culinary school, she worked on the savory side for three years in Seattle before switching over to the sweet side at a time when there were only two other pastry chefs in the city. She gained experience in casual restaurants in Seattle as well as heavy-hitters like Spago, The Fat Duck, Noma, and Alinea, and now feels like her diverse experiences have culminated in the perfect position at Blackbird.

When you're a pastry chef, she said, the best thing you can hope for is to work with other people who are a natural fit so that you are not forced to interpret someone else's vision. She's found that with both Paul Kahan and David Posey, Blackbird's Chef de Cuisine. She believes being a pastry chef is not necessarily about expressing yourself creatively; instead it's about using your creativity to culminate the diner's experience. That means understanding not only David Posey's food so that the meal progresses naturally from savory courses to sweet, but also what it's like to sit in Blackbird's minimalist white banquette on a bustling Saturday night and what that kind of environment makes you feel and expect.

If you do, in fact, find yourself in such a banquette for dinner sometime this winter, you may find a chestnut-centric dessert inspired by mont blanc, a sweet from Southern France, on your dessert menu. Click through the slideshow for a peek at the complex array of techniques and ingredients that go into making this picturesque dessert. Also included is a shot of the aforementioned coconut cake as well as a delicious new offering available at Publican Quality Meats.

Blackbird

619 West Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60661 (map)
312-715-0708
blackbirdrestaurant.com

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