June 15, 2020

Not every pastry chef has to own a bakery or make cakes. Sometimes your heritage takes the wheel and steers you down the right road. Chef Fany Gerson is the country’s leading authority on Mexican sweets. She founded the renowned La Newyorkina (The Girl From New York), an artisanal Mexican sweets business and has been featured in the New York Times, Food and Wine, Fine Cooking, Fast Company and New York magazines among many other well known publications. We are honored that she joined over 260 Escoffier students, instructors and faculty for this exciting Zoom event.

Fany’s background includes formal culinary training, 3 Michelin star kitchens in the U.S. and Europe, three books that bear her name-including a James Beard nomination, and entrepreneur to multiple culinary focused businesses. For this event she spoke to us from her recently reopened store and then graciously gave us a tour.

Being Authentic

Chef Fany is extremely passionate about her work. She shared a slideshow with us documenting her trip back to Mexico when she spent a year traveling her homeland gathering inspiration for her first cookbook, My Sweet Mexico.

“I’m extremely proud of where I come from” she remarked when characterizing the rich history and people of Mexico. It’s important to her as a chef to be authentic in what she presents to others. She finds that there are five pillars that guide her:

  • Culture – Inspiration and Pride
  • Color – Both from the culture and people of Mexico
  • Storytelling – Her products need to tell the story about where she comes from
  • Quality – What is sourced and how
  • Passion – Because this industry is driven by it

The Taste of Success

She admitted that when she started out she wanted to experiment with authentic Mexican flavors but was afraid they might not be well received in the U.S. So, in keeping with her need to complete things in odd numbers, she began with what she refers to as ‘5 quintessential flavors of Mexico’: Mango-Chili, Coconut, Hibiscus, Passion Fruit, and Tamarind – or Lime (she confesses she can’t fully recall).

She began creating her delicious sweets with paletas, flavor-packed ice pops made from a variety of fruits, nuts, flowers, and even spices. From there her business grew to include many types of traditional Mexican sweets with innovative twists. Even now during the Covid-19 quarantine, she’s morphed her business into a source of sustenance for healthcare workers and the community at large. In fact, in just over two months, she and her staff have created and delivered over 10,000 meals to those in need. The taste of success, indeed.

Transported to Mexico

While her flavor profiles are deeply-rooted in Mexican history, she finds inspiration for new ways of treating desserts from just about anywhere, including other restaurants and even museums. However, staying true to her heritage, all her products are hand made and contain ingredients directly from Mexico including vanilla and some chocolate. It’s important to Chef Fany that her customers are transported to Mexico every time they walk into her shop, order her sweets online, read one of her books, or especially when they taste one of her delicious treats.

It’s All in the Details

She considers her staff her family. And while recipes are transferred from generation to generation, in Mexican families it’s mostly done orally. There is no real documentation for recipes. So it’s important for her that her staff continue with the hands-on traditions in creating these authentic sweets. No detail is too small, including the vanilla and chocolate she sources from Mexico or the candied lemons that vividly pop from her lemon-ginger paleta.

“I take the little things that I’ve learned from restaurants I’ve worked at and put them into something that’s common (like a popsicle) and that’s what makes it special.”

After taking us on her cultural and culinary journey, she showed us her kitchen, then answered some of the many questions we received from students.

Alternative Careers for Culinary Students

Chef Fany isn’t a traditional chef; she’s an innovator and entrepreneur. Naturally students wanted to know what else might be out there for them to pursue as a career…other than cooking. She confirmed that their culinary education is setting the foundation for both their personal lives and careers. Then goes on to note some of those alternative careers such as food writer, stylist and film-maker, cookbook author, education, and recipe developer as a few. She encourages students to think out of the box, when it comes to career choices and even went as far as offering her contact information for students to reach out directly with any questions they may have.

How Do You Write a Cookbook?

La Newyorkina Chef Fany GersonAs for her own cookbook experience, Chef Fany admits she’d never written anything before, so she took a class on how to write a cookbook proposal. She shared a few key insights she learned along the way, now as a successful author of two additional cookbooks:

  • Make sure your idea is unique and relevant. This is important for longevity. “You want people to look at your recipes now and 30 years from now”
  • Consider ‘Why’ would someone want to use your cookbook, and ‘Why You’ – what makes you the right person to write it.

Longevity: Reinvention and Imagination

In Chef Fany’s opinion, passion is a predominant force in this industry. But even more than passion is grit. One needs determination and flexibility to succeed, she commented. With the current social situation, this couldn’t be more true. However, she refers back to her opening remarks about authenticity and belief in one’s self that propels forward momentum. She encourages students to think about what they do, what drives them and “at your core what are you most proud of?”. This authenticity and purpose eventually leads to innovation that sustains personal drive and the physical business.

Food is a Powerful Force

After our tour and Q&A session, she had some inspirational closing remarks for our students.

She acknowledged that “Things are difficult right now in many ways; there is much uncertainty”, but went on to say, “I do believe that food is very powerful. It can bring people together and can really change the world for the better.”

She also left our students with this heartfelt message:

“Be proud of where you come from, who you are, and celebrate that”.