Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

Johnny Iuzzini's dirt cups aren't like your or mine

With his modified pompadour and mutton chops, Johnny Iuzzini resembles a flying Elvis more than the four-star,hydrocolloid-flinging pastry chef that he is. Iuzzini, who creates fantasy desserts for Jean Georges in Manhattan, entertained and fed a crowd yesterday at the annual Chocolate Show, held at the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street.

I can write about it this event now that I’ve awoken from my cacao- and sugar-induced coma. From what I remember, Iuzzini’s stage patter was highly entertaining and his performance a combination of magic and science show, complete with lovely assistant and chemical compounds. He told the assembled crowd that he grew up in the Catskills, loves Kraft mac and cheese and would just as soon put a perfect peach on a plate as is than gussy it up with fancy chef tricks. He pooh-poohed the term “molecular gastronomy.” The audience could relate to him.

Iuzzini even picked a classic kid’s dessert to adapt, the Dirt Cup, which I know about because Son and his cooking pal Matt love them and make them, usually with Cool Whip, packaged chocolate pudding mix, crushed Oreos and a lot of chocolate syrup. Iuzzini took this supermarket kids’ concoction and decided he would ditch the typical “make at home” cooking demo. “I’m going to make something there’s no way you could possibly do at home,” he told the crowd.

The tattooed chef brought out the peristaltic pump, the seaweed extract iota carrageenan and the hand-held blender and gave the crowd a little chemistry lesson, explaining how how hydrocolloids need water to be activated, how gums are sheared into liquids, and how they “swell, gel and give viscosity” to the chocolate pudding and chocolate gummy worms he was making. Putting eggs in chocolate pudding is for amateurs, said Iuzzini, because although they lend creaminess, they mask the “true in-your-face-smack-you-up” chocolatey-ness of the dessert. Instead, a bit of iota carrageenan, which binds best with dairy products, give the pudding its body without sacrificing flavor.

After demonstrating how to make the gummy worms and the pudding, Iuzzini had his bevy of young female assistants hand out the finished Four-Star Dirt Cups, multi-textured extravaganzas that included a cake-like base, the eggless pudding, cocoa nibs and wheat-based chocolate “pearls” for crunch, some micro basil leaves, Maldon sea salt, chocolate agar sponge rectangles, and the extruded chocolate gummy worms.

Iuzzini was right: it was nothing I wanted to attempt at home. Copies of his book, Dessert FourPlay: Sweet Quartets from a Four-Star Pastry Chef, however sold out at the fair’s Barnes and Noble booth. There are plenty of people, it seems, who like the idea of kitchen chemistry.

Old school Brooklyn pizza, or newfangled West Village Slice?