Competing with a talented coterie of 23 chefs anointed New York Rising Stars by StarChefs, Eunji Lee, of Manhattan’s two Michelin star Jungsik, claimed the coveted Steelite International sponsored prize: a check for $5,000 worth of the company’s products.
Her stunning signature Baby Banana dessert was showcased at a gala reception at the Capitale on February 19th, along with temptations from the other chefs and sommeliers selected as Rising Stars from a list of 125 culinary professionals for their potential to make a lasting, positive impact on the restaurant industry both locally and nationally.
Two other prestigious pastry pros, Isabel Coss of Cosme and Manuela Sanin of Eleven Madison Park, and Max Blachman-Gentile, artisan bread baker at The Standard, East Village, also made the cut.
Blachman-Gentile, doubles as chef de cuisine at The Standard leading a team of 60. He is dedicated to expanding their bread program with locally sourced flours for his poppy-sesame miche and rye/wheat sourdough – irresistible served smeared with homemade butter at the Capitale reception.
Noting that today, “New York’s most exciting chefs are cooking the food of their own heritage, or a cuisine they love,” the StarChefs team praised “…a highly trained and creative generation of young pastry chefs…(who) are tapping into family history – rather than a collective American nostalgia – to make inventive, delicious, and resonant desserts.”
Coss, for example, learned to cook traditional dishes from her grandmother in rural Mexico and started as a professional bread baker at 17 in the kitchen of Enrique Olvera’s landmark restaurant Pujol. After attending culinary school, she headed to New York to train as a pastry chef and eventually rejoined Olvera at Cosme. Her ingredient-driven, spare, stylish desserts were reflected in a presentation of butternut squash tamal and banana leaf ice cream, Sanin, growing up in Medellin, Colombia, attributes her early interest in cooking to the Food Network shows she watched on television. After culinary school in Orlando, where she also worked with chocolatier David Ramirez. Sanin came to New York for gigs at local Spanish restaurants before landing at Nomad in 2014.
Over the past five years she has passed through the Humm/Guidara diaspora, and is currently at Eleven Madison Park working with executive pastry chef, Mark Welker, who she considers her most important mentor. The barley and malt ice creams, cardamom cream, shortbread and cacao nibs, dessert she plated for the gala was the same one that clinched her nomination for Rising Star.
Television was also the inspiration for Lee. At 14, after watching a show about the life of a pastry chef at her home in Busan, South Korea, she declared “This is my dream and this is my future.” Fast forward to France for a decade of culinary studies and Michelin starred restaurant positions before Lee decided to come to New York “for my new experience.”
As executive pastry chef for the past two years at Jungsik, Lee found the perfect fit: “My first job as a pastry chef where I can make my own desserts with the French techniques I learned.” Always de rigeur on her playful five course dessert tasting menu, the tromp l’oeil Baby Banana is a white chocolate shell, shaped to imitate the fruit, that is filled with Valhrona Dulcey ganache and Bailey’s cake, and served with coffee ice cream and chocolate crumble.
The Rising Star gala was a benefit for Careers through Culinary Arts (C-Cap), “the national non-profit that educates and guides under-served high school students toward a bright future.”