Monica Glass didn’t plan to be a pastry chef. After graduating from Pennsylvania State University, she started a career in public relations in New York City. But a childhood love of cooking lingered. “My dad and my grandmother were always big into cooking, so it was a big part of my life,” she says. “When I was in college, I was a server in a restaurant and I just really liked the energy and the feel of meeting so many people and making them happy. That’s what food can do. It can really change your experience. That’s what drew me to it.” An apprenticeship at Gotham Bar and Grill in New York led to a full-time job at the restaurant. After various gigs in New York and Philadelphia, last fall Glass started at Clio as pastry chef. The move turned out to be prescient, as last week Glass was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Pastry Chefs, with the publication writing, “Pretty, dainty, and feminine, Glass’s French-inflected desserts are exquisitely balanced. Each plate contains several components that show just the right amount of restraint.” Glass is honored by the award. “I’m just hopeful that my food tastes really good. At the end of the day that’s the most important thing, that it’s unique and different, kind of makes people think a little bit.”
Q. How has working alongside Clio owner Ken Oringer expanded your skills?
A. He’s been extremely influential on me in a short amount of time and I really look up to his style. Ken definitely makes me open my eyes more and try to think about things in a different way, always adding an interesting twist to it, whether it’s a flavor or a shape. He gives me a different perspective on food in general and surprising your guests. With my apple crumble dessert, he just kept pushing me to think of something completely different and off-the-wall that no one would expect. So I put yamamomo berries in there with your classic American flavors of apple and rye. That’s how that one evolved.
Q. The “deconstructed dessert” that Food & Wine highlights is violet vacherin. What goes into that?
A. Vacherin is a traditional French dessert of meringue, cream, ice cream, and sorbet, so basically I took that and played off it. I made a violet-flavored meringue and I paired it with coconut-moscato cream. I also pair it with some lychee, and then I have different forms of coconut: frozen chocolate-coconut streusel, violet and coconut powder, violet-buttermilk ice cream, and then a milk-chocolate sorbet.
Q. Do you decide in your head what flavors work together before tasting them and seeing them together?
A. It’s a lot of trial and error. I typically think of my ingredients first and if there’s a flavor I want to highlight. Then I just try to come up with different pairings that could work with it. I think of the plating, the presentation, the shapes, the textures, hot/cold. It’s a lot of different elements that come into play. Every dessert I create is different too. I just always try to start out with the base of the ingredients. Sometimes it works out throwing two things together, but I feel like I have a decent palate and a good food memory bank in my head. I’ve eaten a lot of things and I know what I like together.
Q. Desserts seem to be getting more complex. Is there pressure to make them unique?
A. I feel like you’re always trying to innovate, you’re always trying to learn more. If I’m not learning something then I don’t necessarily feel the purpose in doing it. I’m always trying to push myself to learn something new. That’s why pastry chefs are always trying to innovate and come up with something new and use different quirky techniques or ingredients. At the end of the day, it all is rooted in your basics, your classics, it’s just different avenues of trying things.
Q. Your own gluten intolerance has earned you praise for gluten-free desserts. What kind of feedback do you get from guests?
A. People seem to love it, especially my gluten-free rolls. They’re very appreciative that I have gluten-free desserts on the menu. When I try to think of gluten-free desserts, I don’t want the diner to necessarily feel excluded like, “Oh, this is a gluten-free dessert.” I just want to make it naturally gluten-free so people that are gluten-free can have a normal dessert and people that aren’t gluten-free won’t even notice.
Interview was condensed and edited. Glenn Yoder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org