In the movie Chocolat, confectionary artist Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) opens a Chocolaterie in a rural French town and then employs her considerable skills to mesmerize villagers—especially Mayor Comte Paul de Reynaud (Alfred Molina)—with her irresistible treats. Bite into any of the creations inspired by Ryan Schmitt, pastry chef at Four Seasons Hotel Denver, and you’ll most certainly fall under a spell.
Schmitt’s interest in the culinary arts began as a child where he recalled the smell of something cooking in the house as soon as he and his siblings came home from school. “You’d come home and smell pies baking or there would be a pot roast in the oven,” said Schmitt. “My mom and I would watch cooking shows on television and she would always be writing recipes down, taking notes on how (the chefs) were doing it and then she would make it at home.” Those cues started him thinking that there had to be a way to turn cooking into a career.
Young Chef Makes A Sweet Choice
In high school Schmitt had the opportunity to explore a vocational program centered on cooking. A summer internship took him to the Trump Taj Mahal hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he gravitated towards pastries. What followed was college at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Florida, then an externship at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Initially hired on as a cook, he was soon promoted to a position of overseeing desserts at the resort’s Italian restaurant and assisting with banquets, which often would serve hundreds of guests. As his pastry skills grew so did his interest in expanding his horizons so he moved to the west coast, first going to work at Carmel Valley Ranch at the Michel Richard eatery, Citronelle. After the resort was sold a year and a half later, Schmitt headed to Los Angeles and to The London West Hollywood.
“I arrived about a year after its renovation,” explained Schmitt. “It had a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and I was hired on as the junior sous chef, then promoted to pastry sous chef.” An opportunity presented itself for the up-and-coming pastry chef to become assistant pastry chef at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills; that eventually led to his move to its sister hotel in Denver where he is now pastry chef.
Imaginative, Seasonally Inspired Treats
Whether you are sitting down to a meal at EDGE, the signature restaurant at Four Seasons, or ordering room service, the items from the dessert menu were influenced by Schmitt’s imagination. With a passion for reading, he is always browsing through books, magazines and online for something that could spark an idea for a new menu item.
“People tend to go towards what they like or what they’re familiar with like crème brûlée,” Schmitt commented. “Guests like comfort zone desserts like cheesecake and chocolate molten cake, but I’m always wondering how to take desserts to a different level, to elevate them to a way people haven’t had them before.” By leaving his comfort zone now and again, he’s been able to demonstrate that different is often surprisingly good. At lunch one day he was going to order a bacon cheeseburger with an onion slice. When the server recommended a jalapeno, cream cheese, bacon, peanut butter burger, he hesitated, then took a leap of faith. He found the burger—and its unusual counterparts—delicious. Having arrived in Denver at the beginning of 2014, Schmitt was looking forward to spring, summer and fall, where seasonal fruits and farmer’s markets would fuel new ways to work with berries, melons, apples, pears and pitted fruits.
Truffles, Puddings, Tarts and Milk Shakes
Appreciating that two (or more) heads are better than one, Schmitt makes a conscious effort to enlist the thinking of the culinary staff at the hotel when entertaining new desserts and confections. Of the many avenues to take in creating sweet treats, Schmitt leans towards chocolate. “With chocolate you can make little bars and truffles; there is a lot of room for creativity there,” said Schmitt. “But puddings, custards, cakes, ice creams, tarts and cheesecakes are also part of the mix. We’re always going to have milkshakes; people love milkshakes.”
If you have a birthday or wedding on the horizon, note that the hotel can prepare a birthday or wedding cake, with the former being enjoyed at a birthday party in the restaurant. Both styles of cakes can be ordered and picked up. Given the artistry of Schmitt and his staff, you simply must leave room for dessert. “I think your mind sometimes plays games, where you’re convinced you’re full after lunch or dinner,” Schmitt added. “Rather than pass on dessert you can order an item or two and share with others at the table.”
What a tasty way to put an exclamation point on a fine meal.
When You Go
Four Seasons Hotel-EDGE Restaurant
1111-14th St., Denver
Restaurant dining, in-room dining
Bio: Kim D. McHugh, an award-winning writer and luxury real estate marketing consultant, is a frequent contributor to the New West Publishing family of magazines. His articles have appeared in SKI, Tastes of Italia, RockyMountainGolf.com, Hemispheres and Colorado AvidGolfer.
photo credit: Adam Larkey