This is a guest post from Laura Gilstrap.
Craft Street Kitchen’s slogan, “seriously fun food,” has never disappointed their customers. Menu items such as The Belgium Clucker, Buffalo Cauliflower, and Lobster Mac and Cheese are crowd-pleasing fan-favorites that keep their customers coming back. In typical Craft Street Kitchen “uncommon hospitality” fashion, owner Jon Rehm and Operating Partner, Danielle Becker, decided that Craft Street Kitchen needed something (or someone) who could take their desserts to the next level. So, on March 1st, the sweet and well-mannered Pastry Chef, Monika Rodriguez, joined the Craft Street Kitchen team.
I knew I was going to like Monika when the first thing she said during our interview was: “I can flat-ice a cake like it’s no one’s business.” Her confidence was evident and her passion for pastry was energizing…she was going to be a great addition to the already amazing Craft Street Kitchen family. Monika, a native to Florida, was raised in the kitchen. Her Grandpa was a cook in the military and her Granny could always be found baking something homemade and delicious. “The kitchen brings family together and it creates lasting memories,” says Monika. In high school, Monika’s culinary concentration began to excel when she came in 1st during a chili competition (her secret ingredient: a porter) and placed in an apple pie competition. After high school, Monika enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando where she eventually transitioned into pastry.
Are there any desserts that you are currently working on?
I have a lot of ideas that I am excited to start working on. For example, the first thing I want to perfect and release is a Polenta Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich with Roasted Corn Ice Cream. I think it would fit well with the rustic Craft Street Kitchen theme. I am also working on a Grilled Sour Cream Pound Cake served with RumChata Glazed Strawberries.
Do you have any goals while working at Craft Street Kitchen?
I want make Craft Street Kitchen known for their desserts. When a guest orders a dessert, I want each item to have complete consistency and for each guest to experience “shock and awe” when the dessert is served to them.
What’s your favorite dessert to make?
Mousse! To create a mousse, the timing needs to be perfect, and to me, a mousse is baking 101 for pastry chefs. People truly enjoy the light and airy texture that a mousse offers. Some people even think it’s healthier.
What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
This may sound strange, but I love working with high quality butter. It’s the base to all baking. President is my favorite because of the perfect salt content. I discovered it on a cruise ship but could never find it in my local store. Years later, it just appeared in Publix and I was elated.
If I gave you $5,000 right now, what would you do with it?
I would tithe 10% to a shelter and then pay off the repairs I just had done on my car. Side note from the author and interviewer, Laura: I asked owner, Jon Rehm, the same question, and he said he would save it….boooooorrrrrrrring (Just kidding Jon.…don’t fire me), but a great answer as a business owner.
Let’s say it’s your last weekend on earth…where would you eat?
I would eat at Jiko in the Animal Kingdom at Disney. I go every year on my birthday and I start with a cheese plate and end with a cappuccino. It starts and finishes the perfect meal. Jiko is South African inspired cuisine with warm notes and a homey feel. They really elevate and upscale the basics, but still keep things simple. I have a fascination with negative space and shapes when I’m plating. During my training, there were three things that stuck with me…water, earth, and sky. Those three elements represent a sauce, a main item on the plate, and the texture I build on top.
Name a person(s) you would most like to bake for?
I would first need to research Australian desserts, but then I would love to bake for King and Country. King and Country is a Christian pop duo composed of Australian-American, now Nashville-based, brothers named Joel and Luke Smallbone.
What kitchen tool can’t you live without?
My paring knife…a chef’s knife is so important.
What is your philosophy on pastry and baking?
History, Heart, Future.
History gathers the classic baking methods and flavor profiles taking you back in time to your fondest food-related memories. It doesn’t matter if you were in the kitchen helping mom or at your favorite restaurant, food has the ability to make your heart smile.
This is the inspiration of any good Chef. To really let the food do the talking. The food is your inspiration, and your heart has to be in it. Otherwise, it’s simply not good food.
Lastly, you combine the knowledge (history), love (heart) and plan for the future. Here’s the fun part…taking everything you’ve learned, all the emotions that food has inspired you to feel, and you put your own twist on it. What’s even more fun is putting an adult twist on it.
Here is an example of what I mean. Remember that time at a campfire when you finally nailed your toasted marshmallow? Wasn’t it was the best darn s’more you had ever tasted!? Bring that memory back. Except now, let’s make our own graham crackers and infuse a homemade marshmallow with Godiva chocolate liquor and pair it with a nice 58% chocolate. That’s a s’more that left history behind.
That’s the future.