Authors: nytimes Diners Journal
This week’s restaurant review took me to Blanca in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for three renditions of Carlo Mirarchi’s epic tasting menus, generally about 27 courses in all. Many of those courses were outstanding, but even so, my thoughts started to wander a bit as the evening entered a third hour. Then, about three-quarters of the way through my first meal, I had a dessert that brought me right back to attention.
The pastry chef, Katy Peetz, delivered it herself, setting the arrangement of pink and cream and green down on the porcelain counter, then stepping back to identify it. “This is watermelon radish ice cream,” she said.
Hang on a second: watermelon radish ice cream?
“Yeah, it’s kind of funky,” she said. And then she giggled.
Funky it was, all right, and unmistakably vegetal, a pale-rose scoop with the sweaty pungency of steamed turnips more than the peppery heat of raw radishes — an ice cream from another planet, one where desserts don’t have to follow any rules. Ms. Peetz seemed to grasp that watermelon radish ice cream might require some explanation, and she used word association to do it. There beside the vegetable ice cream were cubes of fresh watermelon and some sour watermelon gummy candies. Watermelon radish, meet your long-lost cousin, watermelon!
This, of course, is a mildly insane notion. It is also a very intelligent one. Watermelon is easy to love, but its flavor is one-dimensional. Ms. Peetz managed to turn that weakness into a virtue by offering the fresh and candied watermelon as sweet relief from the somewhat challenging strangeness of the radish ice cream. And she turned me into a fan.
Ms. Peetz is the pastry chef of both Blanca and the pizza parlor/party shack next door known as Roberta’s. About two years ago, she was helping cook the savory side of the menu when the pastry chef left. Mr. Mirarchi gave the job to Ms. Peetz, even though she had never worked in a pastry kitchen before. This spring, when he opened Blanca, he made her pastry chef of that restaurant, too.
When she moved jobs, Ms. Peetz brought some of her former ingredients with her, especially vegetables, which appear in her desserts as regularly as gadgets and accommodating women turn up in Bond films. She purees sorrel and celery with pear juice for a sweet-and-tart soup; she bakes chick peas and quinoa into a crumble that she strews around beach-rose gelato; and freezes ice cream made from treviso, a radicchio whose punishing bitterness makes it the Christian Grey of the vegetable kingdom.
Ms. Peetz said in a phone interview that her on-the-job training as a pastry chef had required “a lot of trial and error, with more error than success.” She tinkers with her recipes constantly; that sorrel, celery and pear soup improved each time I tasted it. “Carlo is awesome, and he pretty much lets me do whatever I want,” she said. “He doesn’t even like sweets that much, so I’m lucky.” Then she gave that giggle again. It was the laugh of a cook who knows how to have fun in the kitchen.