Meryle Evans / September 2012
Food Arts presents the September 2012 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Bill Yosses for his stellar contributions to the culinary profession as a groundbreaking American pastry chef, a staunch advocate for healthful food choices, and a generous mentor.
Yosses’ career trajectory from Francophile pâtissier to executive pastry chef and pied piper of pies at the White House began with degrees in French language and literature, and a stint with Air France in New York City, followed by a degree in hospitality management.
Then it was off to Paris. “At my first job in a small restaurant, going to Rungis with the chef at four a.m. to select fresh vegetables and fish,” he recalls, “really gave me the love for food.” Meanwhile, the delectable cakes at Fauchon and Le Nôtre piqued his interest in pastry. Yosses returned to Manhattan as garde-manger at Roger Vergé’s Polo Lounge, alongside future luminaries Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, then shuttled back and forth to France for apprenticeships in Michelin-starred restaurants. He signed on as pastry chef at Montrachet, Drew Nieporent’s catalytic cradle of American/French cuisine in TriBeCa, in 1985, to work with chef David Bouley, then joined Bouley when he opened his own breakthrough restaurant. “It was a pivotal time,” Yosses remembers, “when American chefs, who, by the way, were all trained in France, were moving into top positions. But there was still a French accent on our desserts. What was different was the way we were sourcing local ingredients and finding the best purveyors.”
After almost 20 years with Bouley, Yosses moved on to Joseph’s Citarella in midtown Manhattan in 2001, where the dessert accent skewed American with cobblers, tarts, and Yosses’ signature warm vanilla cake, a playful take on the ubiquitous molten chocolate version. The recipe is included in his recent book, The Perfect Finish.
When the White House beckoned in 2007, Yosses was in Connecticut helping chef Michel Nischan open Paul Newman’s Dressing Room, a restaurant devoted to promoting locally sourced food, and pursuing his commitment to children’s nutritional programs such as Days of Taste, a predecessor of Michele Obama’s Chefs Move to Schools, and Spoons Across America. “Education is the part I love,” says Yosses, who now harvests vegetables with school groups in Mrs. Obama’s kitchen garden—that is, if he is not concocting a towering layer cake for a dinner celebrating Pope Benedict XVI’s birthday, baking 20,000 Christmas cookies, or rolling crust for an Obama family pie. (The president has dubbed him “the crust master.”)
Yosses has immersed himself in the history of the presidential residence. “I love the house,” he admits. “I feel as if it’s a human being—a living thing—and I like to share it with people.” Sharing is a Yosses mantra. His latest extracurricular venture, after an elBulli immersion shortly before its closure, is lecturing at Harvard University on modernist cuisine.
“Because cooking really does lead to everything else,” he notes, “our knowledge of food puts us in a privileged position to be leaders, and chefs have a responsibility to share what they know with others.”