Melissa Trimmer is the new executive pastry chef at C-House, the restaurant at Affinia Chicago hotel, which is owned by Top Chef master Marcus Samuelsson.
Having worked in kitchens since she was 15, Trimmer has a world of experience. In her years in the industry she’s opened Bite, the bakery for The Gilmore Groupin Grand Rapids, Michigan; and was executive pastry chef when both Lula Café and Nightwood received the Bib Gourmand rating from The Chicago Michelin Guide’s inaugural edition in 2010.
Restaurant Management* speaks to chef Trimmer.
RMGT: How are you changing the menu at C-House?
Chef Trimmer: The menu was rolled in its entirety after I’d been here about a week. And we’ll continue to change it seasonally. And we’ll roll it an item at a time to keep up with what’s coming out of the fields here.
We liked the format so I’ve made changes within that format. There are three sections—dessert, the candy bar, and ice cream/sorbet. The frozen desserts are something I’ve really expanded—to eight of each daily—to make them more seasonal. There’s everything from gelato to sherbert, sorbet, etc., and it’s all seasonal.
On the candy bar menu all the candies have changed. This has a dual purpose, first to make the menu reflect seasonal changes, and second to reflect my cooking style. One of our new candies is a strawberry hibiscus fruit paste (pâte des fruits). Even though strawberries aren’t quite in season here in Illinois, I have a farmer who freezes his produce.
I’ve also streamlined the candy menu. It used to be divided into three sections: chocolate, confection and cookies with four selections per and we’ve streamlined it to three per with the hope that we can change them more often and they can be more seasonal and higher quality.
The candies are a good desert to share. We also offer a candy bar tasting of five, seven or nine. It’s a nice alternative to a larger plated dessert.
RMGT: Do you do anything special at C-House to encourage more guests to eat dessert?
Trimmer: We are selling more desserts at lunchtime. Our executive chef started a program called 1, 2, 3 and guests get one appetizer, one entrée, and one candy bar item and it all comes at once so they can get in and out. It’s just $15—normally they wouldn’t be getting desserts at lunchtime so this gets them to taste them.
We are also running a special called “May with Melissa,” in which a guest needs to mention the promotion to receive a half price dessert (only valid on Mondays).
RMGT: Is it challenging working with local producers?
Trimmer: It can be difficult to offer seasonal fruits in the winter but there are ways to get around that. So I develop relationships with my suppliers if they are preserving fruit. We are also trying to preserve in-house—we make all our jams for example, for our brunches. So it’s about thinking ahead.
Also, If there’s been a lot of rain, the farmers can’t bring produce in because it rots. When you deal with big companies, you don’t have trouble like this. At the same time I think the quality is higher with local farmers. It’s certainly less formal with them.
The upside is that you develop a relationship with the farmers, which is beneficial to both the restaurant and the farm. On a whole, though, it’s really nice to have a personality and story behind the food as well as supporting the local economy and doing something that is better for the environment.
RMGT: What’s hot in desserts right now?
Trimmer: We’ve seen the rise and fall of cupcakes but I think that trend is over. I think fried desserts are big—like donuts—and hand pies. I often serve the pies straight up—it’s street food, truck food.
Savory appearances in desserts are something we’re seeing a lot of right now—herbs that you would think of as savory like oregano and thyme, as well as carrots, beets, cheese. I think pastry chefs are feeling a little less pigeon holed right now and are exploring out and seeing what they can do.
RMGT: You work in a women-run kitchen: Does this influence the menu?
Trimmer: We like to say that the food sometimes looks very pretty. Everybody likes pretty food because we eat with our eyes first.
By Amanda Baltazar
*Restaurant Management (Rmgt) was the precursor to FSR magazine.