The best things in life are sweet

November 13, 1996|By Rob Kasper

EMILY LUCHETTI has little tolerance for people who disdain dessert. When people come to her with their heads held high and announce that they don't eat sugar anymore, she responds by asking these naysayers how long they have had this problem and have they considered seeking help.

Enjoying a well-made dessert, she said, is like buying a new pair of shoes. It is a wonderful part of life, something you don't do everyday. "You don't eat dessert all the time," she said. "And you can't afford to buy all the shoes in the store."

Her view of dessert as a vital component of earthly happiness, makes perfect sense to me. It turns out this pastry chef and I agree on several philosophical points. Others are that eating desserts offers emotional fulfillment, that baking desserts makes other people feel happy, and that eating or baking desserts offer a respite from the world's problems.

Luchetti made these points in the introduction to her new book "Four-Star Desserts" ($32.50 HarperCollins). When she came to Baltimore recently we sat down and talked about life's sweeter side.

We met in a coffee shop at about 9 in the morning. Bakers tend to work early in the morning, said Luchetti, a trim, 40-year-old. She baked early in the day when she was the pastry chef at Stars restaurant in San Francisco, she said. Now she works out of the Sausalito, Calif., home she shares with her husband, Peter, a financial trader. She still gets up early, she said, often running a few miles before settling down to work.

She grew up in Corning, N.Y., where her father, Ed Underhill, was publisher of the local newspaper, the Leader. She came from a family of good cooks, she said. Her grandmother, Emily Wood, once won a cooking contest sponsored by Sunbeam Corporation with a dish called "Blushing Chicken." Later, when Luchetti's family moved to Florida, she got a part-time job at the Unpressured Cooker, a kitchen supply store on Sanibel Island. Yet it wasn't until Luchetti was an unemployed college graduate looking for work in New York, that she began to cook for money.

Answering a want ad, she landed a job in the executive dining room of a Wall Street firm. Later she attended the New York Restaurant School and began working at a string of restaurants in New York, Paris and San Francisco. Along the way, she decided to focus on making desserts. The precision of baking appealed to her, she said. Her first dessert book, called "Stars Desserts," was published in 1991.

As I sipped coffee and ate pieces of chocolate bark, a creation Luchetti made with bittersweet chocolate and almonds, pistachios or hazelnuts, Luchetti told me that a key to a successful dessert is keeping the flavors simple.

"A dessert should have no more than three primary flavors," she said. "After three flavors, you start losing people.

"For me, a dessert that starts out tasting of chocolate and ends up tasting of Grand Marnier and oranges is confusing," she said.

Steering our conversation to the topic of desserts as emotional fulfillment, I said that some people have been known to rely on a piece of cake as a reward for getting through a rough day.

Looking around the coffee shop to see if anyone were eavesdropping, I said some of us have been known to eat dessert for breakfast, as a preventive measure. A piece of pie for breakfast the theory goes, guards against the day turning rotten.

I thought this notion of dessert as the breakfast of champions, might shock Luchetti. She took it in stride. At her house, she said, she has seen trifles eaten for breakfast. But on most mornings, breakfast is just espresso and muffins.

Luchetti constantly rebutted the notion, popular in some circles, that any contact with desserts is a sure step down the cream-filled road to ruin.

Instead, this champion seems to regard dessert as one of life's choices. Something that should be made well and enjoyed occasionally.

She noted nutritional guidelines suggest that no more than 30 percent of our caloric intake should come from fats and sweets.

"I'm your 30 percent," she said. And when she said it, she broke into a wide, sweet smile.

Pub Date: 11/13/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.