Sweet career change
Physician, statistician partner to produce delicious desserts

December 8, 2004

The small kitchen at BLU Culinary Arts is all gleaming-stainless-steel-efficiency, but it still manages to feel cozy and intimate, the comforting, homey aromas of yeast and chocolate wrapping around me like warm fleece the moment I walk in the door.

Pastry chef David Fletcher and detail man Scott Jackman are already happily engrossed in their work when I arrive. As a giant bowl of dough rises nearby, to be braided into golden loaves of sweet challah bread and, as fall fruit tarts (pear, pumpkin and banana) bake in the oven, David and Scott are working together to assemble a Buche de Noel a traditional Yule log cake.

David slathers a large rectangular chocolate cake layer with buttercream, and rolls it up to construct the cake (which he slathers with still more buttercream) as Scott painstakingly creates tiny mushrooms, intricate green leaves and red holly berries to dress it up in festive holiday garb.

I am there, perched on a shiny chrome stool, to interview them for this column, though I am soon drafted into braiding challah dough as well. In the midst of my crazy hectic week, the good smells in the air and the hum of companionship and joking camaraderie create an oasis of welcome and contentment. There is nowhere I'd rather be at that moment than sitting in the BLU kitchen, chatting and laughing and working the soft, elastic dough.

BLU Culinary Arts is a dessert catering business run by long-time partners David, a physician at the IU Health Center by day and Scott, a statistician who recently left his IU job to manage the business full time. Though they originally named their enterprise "Red Dog Bakery," after a much-loved canine friend, they finally settled on BLU, an acronym for Boys Like Us two guys ready to take a risk and plunge into a midlife career change, throwing their hearts into the thing they really love.

"Why pastry?" I ask from my stool. Without looking up from the fondant mushrooms he is dusting with mushroom-colored powder, Scott says immediately, "Because it's fattening."

David thinks a bit longer before answering. After all, his fascination with pastry-making is so strong that it inspired him to commute for six months to weekend classes at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, and will lead him to give up medicine as soon as he and Scott can make a go of the dessert business. "I think because it allows for creativity but also requires some science and knowledge," he says. It lets him combine some of the technical training he has spent his life acquiring with the ability to use his imagination to make something beautiful and new.

Having said that, however, he is anxious to dispel the idea that pastry-making is rocket science. He says, "I have had some really good desserts from home cooks and some really mediocre desserts from world class pastry chefs. In many ways, one of the things I like to convey is that there is nothing magical about being a 'pastry chef.' The end result (a delicious dessert) is really attainable by anyone who is willing to experiment, be conscious of flavor and texture, and who is willing to take pleasure in the moment and process."

This attitude makes David not only a first-rate pastry chef, but an excellent teacher, which is fortunate since BLU's business combines both activities. First and foremost they are dessert caterers who also do in-house dessert tastings and events. They make everything from scratch and will create whatever their clients want gorgeous wedding cakes, clever specialty cookies, silky creme brulees (David recommends his favorite, jasmine) or any other sugar-laden confection that is required whether the client can define exactly what that is or not.

When I was recently dithering about what to serve at the conclusion of an upcoming dinner party, David interviewed me about my likes and dislikes as if I were a client at a computer dating service. Just like an expert matchmaker, he came up with my pastry soul-mate: buttery shortbread coated with chocolate and layered in a trifle bowl with fresh figs and lots of whipped cream. It was visually stunning and wickedly good. I fell in love at first bite.

But BLU is also in the teaching business. David has taught a number of classes at the Bloomington Cooking School, but found himself with lots more ideas than they could handle (unbelievably, they find they need to hold classes on topics other than just desserts.)

In response to client demands, he and Scott have begun to hold classes for individuals or groups on any dessert subject someone wants to learn about. The classes are all about having fun and being creative and they are hands-on for David cooking is a tactile business and if you can't feel the texture of what you are creating, you miss an important part of the process.

To explain what he means, he describes what is for him a defining pastry moment. In the making of chocolate ganache (a kind of thick chocolate filling or icing), heated cream is combined with solid chocolate. As the chocolate begins to melt into the hot cream, the whole thing thickens and turns into a luscious creation that is much more than the sum of its parts (no matter how delicious those parts may be.) It is a rich chocolate confection whose heavy, voluptuous texture you can almost feel, just by looking at it. To really appreciate such a moment of transformation, says David, you need to be there, sleeves rolled up, immersed in the art of dessert making.

The ability to share that moment and to watch the sheer pleasure that a well-executed dessert can bring is what ultimately makes David and Scott's job so rewarding. For the BLU team, the new business is the start of an excellent culinary adventure.

Almond and Pear Tart

3 tablespoons almond paste

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 stick butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 pears peeled and cut into 1/4-inch square pieces. They may also be sliced lengthwise for a different appearance.

One 9-inch chocolate pastry tart shell, or 10 4-inch shells, chilled

Whipped cream for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl with paddle attachment, cream the almond paste and sugar for 2-3 minutes until well combined.

Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition. While mixing slowly add the butter and mix until combined. Sprinkle in the flour and mix just until combined.

Pour filling into chilled tart shell and spread evenly. Sprinkle the diced pear evenly over the surface of the filling.

Bake until the surface of the filling is golden brown approximately 35 minutes.

Cool and serve with whipped cream.

Makes enough filling for one 8- or 9-inch tart shell, or 10 4-inch tartlets.

Chocolate Tart Dough

Butter or cooking spray to prepare the pans

5 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup butter (two sticks)

5 whole large eggs

Note: Ideally all ingredients would be well chilled prior to assembly. If this is not possible, work quickly to prevent the butter from melting while being worked into the flour.

Prepare pans by buttering or spraying with cooking spray to prevent sticking.

In a medium size mixing bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt and baking powder. Whisk or sift together until evenly distributed. Cut butter into 1/2 inch pieces and toss in the flour mixture. Using your finger tips or a pastry knife work the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is evenly distributed. The mixture should have the appearance of cornmeal and there should be no large pieces of butter remaining.

Whisk eggs briefly to blend and pour over the flour butter mixture. Using your hands, toss the flour with the eggs until the flour is evenly moistened by the eggs and just begins to hold together.

Empty mixing bowl onto counter and shape the dough into a flat log. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill for two hours or overnight.

Once dough has chilled adequately, divide dough into two halves. Work with one half at a time, chilling the half that is not being used. Flour your work surface and roll the dough into a circle at least 11 or 12 inches in diameter. The dough should be rolled as thin as possible, about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. Roll the dough onto your rolling pin to help transfer it to the tart pan. Gently press dough into pan. Using a fork, prick the bottom of the dough shell and chill until ready for use. If you use only half this dough, the other half may be wrapped securely and frozen for up to two months.

Makes two 9-inch tart shells or 20 4-inch tartlets.

It turns out that one column was not enough to satisfy Christine's curiosity about the BLU culinary enterprise. Next week she'll be back to report on a step-by-step candy making lesson with David and Scott, with recipes for holiday candy you can make at home for yourself or for gifts. Contact her at cbarbour@heraldt.com.

For more information

Contact BLU Culinary Arts at 334-8460.

Consultations by appointment only.

BLU Culinary Arts is at 813 N. Walnut St., in Bloomington.

Online, see www.bluculinaryarts.com