Chef Nick Wesemann, Part Two: Video-game desserts and some greasy-spoon love

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Pastry chef Nick Wesemanns brown butter brulee.
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  • Pastry chef Nick Wesemann's brown butter brulee.
Pastry chef Nick Wesemann's perfect meal may just be a single savory course followed by five or six desserts. It's funny, but the diners at the American, where he has worked for the last six years, might just feel the same way.

Yesterday, Wesemann explained why he still is found in the front of the house on occasion, and tomorrow, he'll share his advice for how to work your way through a dessert menu. Today, he admits why gamers will love his food.

What are your culinary inspirations? There's inspiration from all sorts of places. I like to take the flavors that I liked as a child and make them more adult, whether that's in the presentation or in adding something else. I get inspiration from music, movies and video games. There's one cookie, for the petit fours. I call them sugar bombs. If you've ever played Fallout 3, the special items you get are called sugar bombs. This cookie has four kinds of sugar. I'm a big nerd, and nobody at the American knows where it comes from. Recently, we had a flambe with funnel cakes. It was my assistant's idea because people go to a carnival or fair and have funnel cake in the summer. And the fluffernutter — I just wanted to get the word fluffernutter on the American's menu. It changes people's perspective. Maybe ingredients can help people think the restaurant is a bit more down-to-earth.

What’s your favorite ingredient? I really like sarsaparilla. I've been getting into that, but it's hard to describe. It's a baking spice like nutmeg or cinnamon. It has its own flavor. People always taste root beer, but it's a unique, earthy spice. I've given it to wine people to ask what it tastes like, and they just say, 'It's unique.' I had it on this peach and popcorn dessert that worked really well. Another flavor I've gotten into lately is licorice. It's weird. Most people don't like licorice, and that's because of black jelly beans, which are a piss poor example of black licorice. It has these dark deep brown-sugar flavors. It's not bitter and gross. I've done it in some caramels, and people are like, 'oh, wow.'

What’s your favorite local ingredient? We've lately been getting a lot of great fruit. Every summer we have good, local peaches. I really look forward to that. And that peak of ripeness, they're soft and juicy and moist. You'll go into the walk-in to see how they taste, and before you know it, you've eaten four of them. We've been having crazy weather, so the tomato season was shorter, which is sad. I like corn, too. It's sweet and can be used in a dessert in different ways.

What’s one food you hate? Capers. I can't stand them, and olives. It's the briny flavor. I love salt, but I don't love brine. I also hate uni [sea urchin]. It's got the word 'eww' in the name. I don't like really pungent foods, a cheese that's really funky. It's too much. It lingers. You're eating something and then you taste and smell like it.

What’s one food you love? Pork. Any chef will say any kind of pork. And ice cream. I love making ice cream. You can do anything with it. It's a vehicle. I really like cinnamon and caramel ice cream — nice, simple flavors. There's this one, Haagen-Dazs. It pisses me off. It's a coconut ice cream with sesame brittle and ginger. It's something I totally didn't expect to find in the grocery store. It's got texture and flavor.

What’s your guilty pleasure? I really like greasy-spoon, diner-type food. I'll go to Chubby's once a week. I love good food, done well. Sometimes I'll just get a really big plate of hash browns and biscuits and gravy. It's the food I grew up on. It's really simple, I have a soft spot and I crave it. Harrisonville gave me the pork-tenderloin sandwich and breakfast food.

What’s always in your kitchen? I don't cook a lot at home. I always have ice cream. I have surprisingly few baking ingredients. I've got to go buy sugar and baking powder if I'm going to bake anything. I usually have some sort of cereal. Sugar Smacks, I eat the hell out of those. I have lots of eggs. That's an easy meal when I get home late at night. I crave them anyway.

Besides your own place, where do you like to eat out? I really like You Say Tomato. I like going there for brunch. They have a breakfast casserole like my mom used to make. Every Christmas, she made it. They make a galette with potatoes. Those are really good, and the pie is great. It's really cool, independently owned, and it's right near where I live. Everyone there is nice, and the food is always comforting. I like the bar at Bluestem. If I don't feel like a full dinner, I can sit there and try Megan [Garrelts'] desserts. Pot Pie is good, too. It's simple food, done well.

What’s one book that every chef should read? One book I got recently is Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot. It has recipes, but it's more about what food does and how it works. I really want to get into some of the modern cooking techniques. Chef Debbie [Gold] bought some of the Modernist Cuisine books. They break everything down. It's really scientific and all about the cooking process. I would always watch Good Eats on the weekends, and I liked that it wasn't just a celebrity chef making a simple dish. Alton Brown would talk about the food and the ingredients.

Do you watch the current slate of television shows about pastry chefs? I don't get cable, but I did audition for Top Chef: Just Desserts. I thought it could be fun, a way to get my name out there. I watch them, and they make me mad because of all of the drama. Still, I thought the challenges could be fun. You don't get that in a restaurant, where you've got to make something in a hailstorm.

What do you see as the latest trends in pastry?I don't know. I like these modern cooking techniques, I won't call them molecular gastronomy, that have been gaining popularity. It's not just foams. But it's techniques and additives that you can do a lot of very cool things with. It frustrates me when I talk to a chef, and they say, 'I won't use this because I just like cooking normal food. I don't like to add things to my food.' There's two problems I have with that. As soon as they say that, they're saying they've learned all they're going to learn. To say my craft has only come so far and I'm not going to take it any farther, I don't think that's good for you. Eventually, you'd get bored with the food. It's also not good for the scene, but everything just stops. The food is going to stagnate. People have to grow. The second is that people use baking soda and gelatin and corn starch. If you make a muffin, you don't want it to be dense and dry. So you find an additive that causes a chemical reaction to make sure the muffin isn't dry. There's no difference between that and using a seaweed derivative instead of gelatin.

For some reason, chefs are OK with gelatin. Maybe it's because it's what they were taught. I'm always excited when a chef gets it. Chef Debbie really makes her food interesting. She says if food is going this way, I can grow. And chef Alex [Pope]. I used to work with him, and we just talk about what different additives might do for a dish. If you keep learning new techniques, then people will want to keep coming back to see what you do next.

What would you ban from the pastry world? I'm so sick of cupcakes. It's not even funny. It's just ridiculous. I'll get excited that a bakery has opened and then see that it's a cupcake shop. I understand. Cupcakes can be done well. My main problem is that every time I eat one, I feel sick afterward. There's no balance. There's this much cake and this much frosting [holds hands significantly wider apart after frosting]. They're always way too sweet, and you get frosting up your nose. As a pastry chef, you can do more. We can do things other than cupcakes.

Who’s got the best barbecue in town, and what are you ordering? I like going to Gates. It's always been my favorite because my parents used to bring me there. I'll get the pork on bun, baked beans and a Diet Coke. I like getting yelled at when I walk in the door. I'm not too big on the spicy, so I'll take the sweet sauce.

A chef is only as good as…their sense of creativity or adventure. You constantly want to be coming up with new flavors and ideas and trying new things out and not getting stuck doing the same thing every time.

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