WASHINGTON — Dieter Schorner, an acclaimed pastry chef who helped introduce the modern American palate to creme brulee, the silky custard he crafted to succulent splendor at Manhattan’s refined restaurant Le Cirque, died June 21 at a hospital in Fredericksburg, Va. He was 83.
His wife, Sylvia Schorner, said the cause was a massive brain hemorrhage. He had moved to Fredericksburg after his retirement in 2017 from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
German-born and Swiss-trained, Mr. Schorner became an instructor after working for decades at some of the world’s most elegant restaurants, including the Savoy Hotel in London. He and his wife also operated the popular Patisserie-Cafe Didier in Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood for a decade beginning in the late 1980s.
Mr. Schorner’s artistic creations in the glittering temples of haute cuisine put him in demand among the high-society set nursing a sweet tooth.
He made cakes for former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy at La Côte Basque in Manhattan and cookies for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s 1974 wedding. First lady Nancy Reagan commissioned him to craft desserts in the shape of cellos, their strings fashioned from spun sugar, in honor of the Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich.
In 1980, New York Times restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton heralded Mr. Schorner, then at Le Cirque, as ‘‘the city’s most inspired pastry chef.’’ He became particularly known for his masterful reincarnation of creme brulee, a ramekin of custard topped with a crust of charred sugar that shatters at the tap of a spoon.
In a career spent among demanding bosses and discerning diners, Mr. Schorner professed to care most about his legacy as a teacher, first as chairman of the pastry arts department at the French Culinary Institute in New York City and then for 17 years at the Culinary Institute of America.
One pupil was Rose Levy Beranbaum, a cookbook author who is widely considered one of the country’s foremost baking authorities.
She sought out Mr. Schorner at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center). But as he prepared a dessert, Beranbaum was surprised to learn that Mr. Schorner didn’t rely on a recipe. ‘‘His hands knew what to do,’’ she said of the chef. ‘‘He had the most loving, most confident hands on a pastry chef I’ve ever seen.’’
Dieter George Schorner was born in Sulzbach-Rosenberg, a small town in Bavaria, on June 19, 1937. He was 4 when his father was killed fighting in Russia during World War II.
Starting at roughly 9, Mr. Schorner took odd jobs to help support his family and found his future profession while working at a pretzel bakery.
A small inheritance from his maternal grandmother allowed him to study candy and confection-making at a renowned school in Basel, Switzerland. He then traversed the globe as the pastry chef on a Swedish cruise ship. To decide between competing offers from two of the world’s top restaurants, the Plaza Athénée in Paris and the Savoy in London, Mr. Schorner flipped a coin, he told Mulvey, and wound up in England.
He worked at upscale New York establishments including Le Chantilly, L’Etoile, and Tavern on the Green. In 1986, Tavern’s flamboyant owner Warner LeRoy opened the opulent Potomac restaurant in Washington and he brought Mr. Schorner with him.
The extravagantly chandeliered Potomac operated for only a year, but it made a splashy mark on Washington’s restaurant scene.
After Potomac closed, Mr. Schorner was pastry chef at the Willard Intercontinental hotel in Washington and then opened Patisserie-Cafe Didier in Georgetown in 1998, running the operation with his second wife, the former Sylvia Careaga, who he leaves along with two brothers and a sister. (An early marriage had ended in divorce).
The snug cafe, located on the quaint one-way Grace Street, was modeled after charming European shops, with roses topping the few tables and a wall display filled with tortes, croissants, cream-filled paris-brests, swan-shaped cream puffs, and trays of delicate cookies.
Even while working at the French Culinary Institute, Mr. Schorner commuted to Washington every Friday to roll dough for croissants at his Georgetown cafe.
Mulvey recalled the VIP clientele that flocked to the sweets. ‘‘There would be Secret Service around, and these limos would pull up,’’ he said.