Sarah Osborn Blue
Cooking entrees with only local ingredients is one thing, but dessert? Poor Sarah. There are no local cacao trees. No local Vanilla orchids. Missouri sugar? Nope. Exotic fruits? Definitely not.
A weaker person would throw in the towel but not Sarah. The pastry chef equivalent to Jean-Claude Van Damme, she conquered her adversary even with the proverbial blinding powder in her eyes. It was a brief moment of panic followed by a moment of zen, and she’s back to dominating the pastry game.
Everything changed for Sarah during a visit to Fiamma in New York City when she was in her late teens. The restaurant’s final dish was a shot glass filled with “a green sorbet and a bright pink soda, plus a tiny straw. I’ve always remembered it as being both awesome and beautiful.” Seeing Sarah’s excitement in food and knowing her strong urge to get out of St. Louis, her mother suggested she attend the Culinary Institute of America.
After graduating, Sarah decided to go all Ina Garten and moved to the Hamptons with some friends, working here and there. “It sounds very ritzy, but it wasn’t. At least we weren’t,” Sarah assures me. Living up to what she calls the Kirkwood Curse, she moved back to St. Louis shortly thereafter and started working at Sarah’s Cake Shop out in Chesterfield. “I love them. They did my wedding cake and my sister’s.”
An opportunity to stage at Niche just over 4 years ago lead to a full time job—and a husband, executive Chef of Brassiere, Nick Blue. Nick and Sarah share a love of the important things in life, like their dog Jax, pizza, and green curry. And whiskey. Years ago, Sarah told Nick he needed a hobby. She didn’t realize what would come of that. Nick’s collection has gotten so huge, it’s spread from their bar down to their basement. Lucky for Nick, Sarah’s fine with it, “as long as we can pay our bills…”
What Sarah manages to do with each dessert never ceases to wow me. I never would have thought buckwheat would be a major component of one my favorite desserts. For inspiration, like so many chefs these days, she looks to Instagram: “it’s instant stimulation. I don’t look at anyone specifically, but I like to see what everyone is doing. I’ll look at say ‘that’s a really cool idea! What if you did this and this to it instead?’”
Outside of Instagram, “Gerard is a huge inspiration. He keeps pushing and inspires everyone around him to keep pushing. I look up to Nate a lot, too. He had this creativity he taps into very easily. He’s great at pushing us in a little bit of a different direction.”
I find the process of dish creation to be fascinating, so I asked Sarah how things work at Niche: “I keep desserts on the menu a month or two, depending on the season. Things change when something’s about to run out or I just get tired of making it. For new dishes, I’ll taste it, then I’ll have Nate taste it. After that, I’ll bring Chris Kelling into it—I have a very savory palate, and Chris has a sweet tooth, so he’ll tell me if it’s not sweet enough. I completely trust his palate and he’s always honest. After that, it goes on the menu. That’s when Gerard will try it. He’ll give feedback—he’s brutally honest, which is great. He’s never mean, he just tells you what works or doesn’t.”
As she finishes plating up her plum dessert for me to try, some of the Pastaria chefs (who will remain unnamed) pop in to check if there are any snacks. “We have a cake scrap pile; if I put food there, you can eat it. But don’t eat it off my station! I’m mom of the kitchen, so I’ve trained them very well,” she explains.
She begins laughing to herself. “A few months ago, I had made a pecan financier. Now I’m a cake corner bandit—any cake I make, I will cut a corner out and eat it. But I hadn’t done it with this one. I came into work, and a piece the size of my hand was gone. It kept happening for 3 days. Cake would just disappear. Who was bold enough to do it?! We started weighing the cakes at the end of the night. Then it just stopped. I think someone was messing with me because they knew it would drive me crazy. I’m so neurotic when it comes to my station. They probably got scared and thought I was going to lose my mind.”
To say the process works would be an understatement. Her desserts, besides being beautiful, have consistently intrigued and delighted. Mixing seasonal fruits, like green strawberries, pawpaws, and apples with things like buckwheat, miso, and cucumber have resulted in desserts unlike any I’ve seen before.
Sarah is re-writing the book on what modern Midwestern desserts can be. If this is what her desserts are like a year into this adventure, I can’t wait to see what she’s doing by the end of 2016.