New Orleans native Grace Bauer had been working as an interior designer for over 25 years when Hurricane Katrina hit and her design firm was swept up in the citywide devastation. She was forced to relocate to Los Angeles. Once Bauer arrived on the West Coast, she followed her lifelong passion for cooking to Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, and eventually back to New Orleans, where she completed an externship at Arnaud’s. She stayed on in the Crescent City, helping friend and author Kit Wohl test recipes for New Orleans Classic Seafood. Pelican Publishing recognized her efforts, resulting in a book deal for Bauer. Penguin previously immortalized New Orleans Classic Desserts. Now Bauer has done the same for Los Angeles with Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, because of the boysenberry and the contribution they made, and The Brown Derby, Chasen’s and Romanoff’s, Hollywood glamour, which is also classic L.A. From there we sprung into looking at the newer edgier chefs, like Wolfgang Puck and Nancy Silverton. Then we wanted to include as many ethnicities as we could, things like Porto’s and Xiomara. It’s more of just kind of the background of L.A. to create the classic desserts. We wanted people to see how the city lived and enjoyed food.
How did you decide which desserts to feature? What are the criteria?
We wanted good desserts. We wanted to represent the restaurants and the food of L.A., the fruits and the vegetables. Things are included in there that aren’t even restaurants, like Sweet Lady Jane or La Brea Bakery, but they’re a big part of what add to the dessert picture for the city.
What was the biggest challenge in assembling your book?
The biggest challenge was to try to explain what we were doing with the book, and then getting the recipes that actually worked for the home cook. The goal for the book, in addition to representing L.A., was that these were recipes that could be recreated by the home cook for the kitchen. Sometimes we’d either get recipes for a very large volume, or receive ingredients or a measurement type that isn’t that familiar. There may be everything in grams, so there were some conversions. Those were challenges. Not having a huge history in culinary writing was a huge challenge. People are not apt to give just give you a recipe. This is their livelihood, so they wanted to be sure they were being represented well.
How many of these desserts did you taste in the restaurants?
All of them, except for the restaurants that aren’t here anymore. If the restaurant didn’t exist, I didn’t taste them.
Did you bake every single dessert that appears in the book?
I did the test cooking on everything, and sometimes we had to do the test cooking many times. If it didn’t come out right or wasn’t written properly and had to be modified, sometimes they had to be tested four, five or six times to make sure it turned out right. Tasting it in the restaurant is one thing, reproducing it in the kitchen, we wanted to make sure we achieved that as well.
What are a couple differences between the desserts you find in L.A and New Orleans?
In Los Angeles, the criteria for fresh fruits and vegetables is pretty strong. The ingredients you can get from farmers market, would be slightly different. Some of the flaming desserts in New Orleans were very popular. New Orleans has a lot of French background, also some other backgrounds. The King Cake and other cooking traditions are part of that city, along with bananas Foster and beignets. The Roman candy carts still go up and down the streets. Those are things that are not here, but in New Orleans.
Since New Orleans Classic Desserts is part of a series, does that mean this is the first of many Los Angeles books for you?
Probably. The next one would be Los Angeles Classic Seafoods.
Grace Bauer kindly shared the GRAPEFRUIT CAKE RECIPE FROM THE BROWN DERBY.