When Pastry Chef Ben Roche was in town recently I had a chance to sit and talk with him; he’s as entertaining as his “no rules and no boundaries” dessert creations or as some may call it, “molecular gastronomy”. Roche defines this style as “fun, purposeful, creative, and delicious”. Roche is the Pastry Chef at Moto in Chicago and is the co-host of ‘Future Food’ on Discovery’s Planet Green network along with Moto’s Chef/Owner Homaro Cantu. Roche and Cantu play dual roles as chef and inventor combining both the scientific and artistic processes of cuisine, defying culinary convention by taking guests and fans on an awesome gastronomical ride. This week we find out about the man behind the LN2 as this week’s Chef in the Spotlight, Ben Roche.
South Florida Food and Wine: Classic pastry chef goes rogue with no rules and no boundaries, you’re bucking the traditional system every step of the way; how did you discover your unique approach to baking and pastry?
Ben Roche:Well, I started out with the basics and knowing the foundations of more “classic” pastry. I think that is the basis for any type of modern cuisine. You must know the fundamentals; from there you can expand or develop creativity.
South Florida Food and Wine: Tell us about your restaurant, Moto in Chicago.
Ben Roche: Moto has been open since January of 2004 and it’s been a constant growth/progression/evolution since then. What we aim for is incorporating fun, originality, innovation, technology and a bit of science into the “fine dining” experience.
South Florida Food and Wine: Molecular Gastronomy. You and Moto’s Executive Chef, Homaro Cantu have built experience dining around this food science phenomena how did this come about for you?
Ben Roche: It’s more about creating an experience, on that is memorable and fun and, of course, delicious, more than it is creating a scientific anomaly. Originally, Moto was Homaro’s vision and after I came on (about 4 months after they opened) it was such a different approach to cooking for me (but it made a lot of sense) that I was able to just jump on board and help him to execute his vision and help him to take it further.
South Florida Food and Wine: When did you realize that baking and pastry was your passion?
Ben Roche: Right as I began culinary school. I attended Johnson & Wales in Providence, RI. My first ‘hands-on’ course was a bread class with Peter Reinhart, which was huge. I owe a ton of the drive and ambition to create “world-class” food to him and his teaching style and his talent. He is a master and I was lucky to get started with him. The other major moment was a demonstration of “25 Textures of Water” that I attended, given by Albert Adria, in 2002. At that point I realized that anything was possible.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your favorite “sweet” item to make?
Ben Roche: I love making ice cream. I think, for me at least, it is the best texture/ way to convey flavors in a dessert. Or maybe I just like to eat it.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one go-to ingredient and why?
Ben Roche: That’s tough. It changes. For a while I was using Greek yogurt for a lot of things, sauces, ice creams…it has a beautiful natural creaminess and acidity. It is great to balance any dish. Right now I am using a lot of wood, actually. Bourbon barrels, burnt cinnamon, smoked cardamom husks, sassafras branches, etc.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s not all about being in the kitchen for you making LN2 ice cream but your TV show, media partnerships, and recipe creation for NASA. How did all this happen; did you seek it out or did it find you, by way of nuclear fission?
Ben Roche: Most of the time we get approached by these groups. With the TV show, it was kind of destined to happen. Our food, not just the presentation but also the preparation, has always been very visual. We had done many segments on other people’s shows so eventually it just made sense to do it ourselves. We are never short on ideas.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your last day on earth, what would your final meal and dessert be?
Ben Roche: I don’t even know where to begin…sorry!
South Florida Food and Wine: Who is the one person you would love to share a dessert with and why?
Ben Roche: I always love sharing desserts with my fiancé, Regina. She likes eating sweets more than I do (I mean, I work with them all day long, so I normally crave salty and bitter things) so she gets really into it. We like to discuss how a dessert either works or does not work for us.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one guilty pleasure food?
Ben Roche: Something greasy late at night after work.
South Florida Food and Wine: What was the last restaurant you ate at? other than your own
Ben Roche: Yusho, a restaurant by Matthias Merges. He was the Chef at Charlie Trotter’s when I worked there and probably one of my biggest influences as a chef. He’s the best I’ve seen and actually a very nice, down-to-Earth person. I have total respect for what he’s done and continues to do.
South Florida Food and Wine: Who would you most like to create a dessert for? And why?
Ben Roche: The last really fun, on-the-fly creation was a dessert for Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins. It was a hollow, frozen sphere of pumpkin ice cream, made to look like a pumpkin (complete with “vines” and “lines” down the sides of it), a few different pumpkin seed elements, different textures and I came out to the table with a giant “meat tenderizer” hammer hidden behind my back and after I described the dish I smashed each ice cream sphere with the hammer. He thought it was awesome. It’s moments like that where I have to stop and think, ‘when I was 14 I was watching this guy’s band on MTV, loving it. Now, I just served him something he says he’s “never seen anything like that before” and he just gave me a fist-bump.’ That was cool. I guess I like the opportunity of making a very specific dish for someone that I know will blow their mind.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your day off, what do you do for fun?
Ben Roche: I don’t even know, maybe one day I will find out. I try to keep busy, even when I’m not physically working at the restaurant. There is always something going on. As long as I am enjoying what I’m doing, or at least feeling that the work I’m doing is worthwhile, then I can be happy continuously pushing. It’s not a very “balanced” schedule though.
moto restaurant 945 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607
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