Food Arts presents its April 1991 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Albert Kumin, dean of American confectioners.
As White House pastry chef during hte Carter administration, Kumin was present for such historic occasions as the signing of the Camp David Accords, when he helped prepare the celebratory dinner for Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and 1,600 other guests. State dinners for a mere 150 were far more common, however, and "at Christmas, there were cookies, cookies, cookies," Kumin recalls. But Potomac fever never gripped Kumin, who returned to new York in less than two years.
Indeed, his proudest moments, he says, came during his collaboration as executive pastry chef of Restaurant Associates with New York restaurateur Joe Baum, a principal in that company when it opened such stellar restaurants as The Four Seasons, the now defunct La Fonda del Sol and Windows on the World. Later when Baum, now a partner in the Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Company, reopened the Rainbow Room, he called upon Kumin again to consult on the pastry. For the dessert menus of these renowned restaurants, Kumin created enduring signature classics—chocolate velvet cake, Mexican chocolate candy cake, golden lemon tart—and elevated the level of American restaurant pastry. Kumin recalls experimenting with some 40 different versions of the dome-shaped chocolate velvet cake—his personal favorite—before settling on the recipe that created a perennial best seller. The Four Seasons has baked an estimated 200,000 chocolate velvet cakes since it opened in 1959.
At 15, the Swiss native began his career as an apprentice in European hotels, resorts and pastry shops. After World War II, Kumin came to the United States by way of Canada, where he worked as pastry chef in several leading hotels.
At 69, Kumin's greatest passion is teaching, a calling he answered when the Culinary Institute of America opened in 1971, though he took sabbaticals to open Windows on the World, bake at the White House and set up the pastry operation at Disney World's EPCOT Center. In 1985 he realized a life-long dream and founded his own school, the International Pastry Arts Center in Elmsford, New York. (The Center is operated by Vie de France Bakery Corp., for which Kumin also acts as executive chef.) Kumin gives week-long master classes six months of the year and inspires a fierce loyalty among his students. "To this day, if there is any kind of advice I need, Albert is the first person I call," says Nicholas Malgieri, pastry chef at Peter Kump's New York Cooking School. "And many of his other former students do the same. Albert's always there if you need something.