Strawberry Dessert Festival — Brookline

The Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets has asked me to check out strawberry desserts local restaurants are offering as part of the Strawberry Dessert Festival. No hardship there.

My first stop is a quick drive up the road, to the Fireplace in Brookline’s Washington Square, where ever-affable Chef and Owner, Jim Solomon, introduces me to his pastry chef, Michal Yacovi, and ice cream maker, Kasey Fechtor. Gotta love a restaurant that has both a pastry chef and a dedicated ice cream maker on staff.

Fireplace 4Like any good pastry team, Michal and Kasey have several desserts working at once in a small but orderly kitchen space. Sauces are simmering, batters are in pastry bags waiting for piping, and raw fruit sits patiently waiting to be attended to. Chef Solomon stops by to share that he’s been in touch with local favorite biscuit maker Effie’s Homemade. Solomon and Effie’s owner, Irene Costello, with Michal’s and Kasey’s support, will collaborate on a ‘make your own ‘smore’ kit. The kit will feature Effie’s Oatcakes, which are up for an award at the Fancy Food Show in New York this summer. Fun news and a fun project for the ladies to begin to think about.

For Strawberry Festival, these two very talented chefs have collaborated to create a homey, satisfying and richly flavored dessert: Michal has designed a personal almond cake, made with almond paste, amaretto and honey, and is pairing it with strawberries in a simple natural brown sugar and lemon zest syrup. The sweetness of the cake is balanced perfectly by the berries, and both flavors are complemented by a homemade spiced orange ice cream.

Fireplace 1Fireplace 2There are two secrets in the ice cream. The first is that cardamom is the spice of choice, but is not mentioned explicitly on the menu. The worry is that the diner might be put off my the unknown. No worries there. The spice note mingles beautifully with the other flavors in the ice cream, and in the dessert. The second is that the ice cream is not prepared from a traditional egg custard, but is made Philadelphia style, with cream, resulting in an intensely flavored, lighter ice cream. Kasey has experimented with creamed cheese, mascarpone and crème fraîche as well.

Fireplace 5My next destination is a short drive down the street to Lineage, in Coolidge Corner. I arrive as Chef Alex Saenz is filleting halibut for tonight’s service, carefully reserving the spine and bones for the fish chowder bubbling on the stove top. They will add depth of flavor and natural thickening to an outstanding flourless chowder, he tells me. It’s lobster week at Lineage, and the kitchen is lively with prep. The fish butchery done, he steps away to speak briefly about his appreciation for the beauty of the each ingredient, simply prepared, and used as closely to its natural purity as possible.

Lineage 4Lineage 6He tells a story about Provincetown’s Ten Tables, where, in the dog days of a Cape Cod summer, he served a sliced heirloom tomato, simply blessed with a drop of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Diners were awe-struck. In response to their effusive compliments, he would simply respond, “The farmer did all the work. If the farmer had a restaurant on his farm, I’d eat there.” In other words, the natural attributes of the ingredient can and will speak for themselves, if given the opportunity.

Lineage 3Chef Saenz shares pastry responsibilities with Kirsten Spatzeck-Olson and Tyson Wardwell. Tyson, in spite of his preference and affinity for the heat and pressure of the line, is a natural at pastry, according to the Chef, and so has been put into the rotation. Saenz thinks this is the perfect time for the Strawberry Dessert Festival. “The berries have length,” he says in chef-speak, the language of my earlier life, “a sweetness that just carries on and on.”

The team sticks to the long-time philosophy of Lineage in creating their dessert:  “an intimate appreciation for ingredients and a profound respect for seasonality.” I would add a nod to the power of nostalgia and the sweetness of memories of a simpler life to that mix. Kirsten has been experimenting with strawberry ice cream, one that allows the berry flavor to shine through. The end result, a house-made ice cream densely flavored with the evocative sweetness of field strawberries. It will be sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies to create an ice cream sandwich the speaks to summer picnics, sunny skies and long, pleasure filled days.

Lineage 5You can click here to read more about Cambridge restaurants Harvest and Oleana.

You can read more about my research of this article here.

But if you do anything, jump into summer and stop by for a yummy dessert, and support the wonderful Massachusetts Federation of Farmers Markets.

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