Behind The Desserts At Gramercy Tavern With Executive Pastry Chef Miro Uskokovic
I first met Gramercy Tavern’s Pastry Chef Miro Uskokovic at the very first Taste Talks meet up—or “eat up” as they so lovingly coined it—where he and Executive Pastry Chef of Café Boulud Ashley Brauze were being interviewed on a panel moderated by food writer Jacqueline Raposo. Taken aback by his warmth, candor and unique take on the culinary arts, I was eager to know more—first hand, that is.
After the surge that is the holidays, Chef Miro welcomed me into his kitchen at Gramercy Tavern. This was such an incredible experience! Not realizing that our meeting was at the same time that the restaurant opened, I got there a few minutes early and joined the line of diners waiting in the cold for that exciting moment when the restaurant opened their doors for the day. We all eagerly watched as the hostess made her was past the window and unlocked the doors allowing us to quickly spill into the warmth of this restaurant.
Think of me as a kid in a toy store during the Christmas season, where everything is at its highest and most sparkly—wide-eyed while turning my head in every which direction to take it all in. Some words come to mind, ornate, floral and refined. I was immediately greeted by Chef Miro Uskokovic and given a full on restaurant tour. Gramercy Tavern is no ordinary restaurant, it’s a well-oiled machine; not a factory because everyone’s too happy to be there. Hmmm, the best way I can explain it is, it's as though a tightly knit family chose to rent out a New York City brownstone together and turn it into a full functioning restaurant business.
Starting at the beginning of our tour, Chef Miro explained the differences between the front section, “The Tavern” and the back section, “The Dining Room”.
The Tavern is more of a comfortable dining experience. You can walk in without a reservation and have a fantastic meal that won’t scare you by pushing you to try something out of your comfort zone. That’s where the "Dining Room" differs. The Dining Room is where you'll find the artistic plating and deconstructed dishes.
Through Executive Chef Michael Anthony’s savory kitchen, down a flight of stairs to a closet, we went. The closet door slid open and Chef Miro looked at me and said as though he was inconveniencing me, “I’m going to have to ask you to put on one of these coats”. I can’t tell you how excited I was! I love getting fully immersed—outfit and all—into a world unlike my own. Like the time I wore waders and jumped in the water on an oyster farm. This was my first time in whites and I couldn’t be more excited!
Dressed in my new outfit, our tour continued to Chef Miro’s office—yes, there is a full area of offices—like I said, well-oiled machine—photocopy machine and all in the restaurant. The tour continued. On we went past the lower level savory prep station and into the chocolate room where I met Shari—who I’m hoping I can convince to become one of my best friends—I’m thinking we’re well on our way as she left me with the most perfectly packaged chocolate gift bag. I can’t even! I watched it like a hawk all afternoon. “You sure it’s ok to leave it here. Wait, why don’t I just grab it. It’s fine, I’ll carry it.” Well, from there, we were in the kitchen. Not the one we already walked through, no, Gramercy Tavern has its own separate pastry kitchen with a full-fledged pastry team!
“There are 15 of us. Plus one, for me” — Chef Miro Uskokovic
Every person we seemed to pass lit up Chef Miro’s face—it’s more than clear that there is a very high mutual respect amongst everyone in the kitchen—savory and sweet alike. There were hugs upon hugs, effortless smiles and at any time I went to take a photo it was ingrained in every single person to mindlessly flip their apron over to its clean photo-ready side. Perfection.
This precision goes far deeper into their kitchen. It’s not quite a routine but more of a familiarity amongst one another. When I asked Chef Miro about their process he explained that every single dessert is whole-heartedly a team effort—one that expands beyond the kitchen.
“Before a dessert gets to the table, including the servers, eight people's hands have contributed to it” — Chef Miro Uskokovic
And when it comes to these desserts, there is so much consideration that goes into each and every one. If it’s finishing off the lighter Vegetable Tasting Menu, the heavier Chocolate Trifle works perfectly. If it’s the Seasonal Tasting Menu, a lighter dessert is best.
“Let’s let the last bite tone it down”— Chef Miro Uskokovic
No, don’t worry, I didn’t toss the words “Chocolate” and “Trifle” out there lightly without giving them the full attention they deserve. In fact, wait for it, the focus of my afternoon with Chef Miro was on this very special dessert!
Let's dive on in! Chef Miro started his recipe by showing me how he prepares the decadent chocolate cremeux—the bottom layer of this trifle. With tempered eggs, heavy cream heated to precisely a hundred and eighty degrees for pasteurization purposes, vanilla bean (his favorite delivered from a man who goes by the incredible name of Mr. Recipe) and then two different kinds of chocolate—one sweeter to cut the bitterness of the purer one—oh, we were well on our way!
Once mixed together using an electric hand mixer, his chocolate cremeux went directly into the refrigerator to sit overnight to come together as one delicious base. And like the magic of television, we continued on using a batch that was made a day earlier.
Onto the hazelnut cookie crumble we went. First thing's first, he blended down the nuts in two batches.
"The second one we leave bigger for texture" — Chef Miro Uskokovic
Into the stand mixer, both batches went along with the butter and brown sugar. Much like there is a whole room dedicated to chocolate, Chef Miro is very conscientious about the sugars he uses and the amounts in which he uses them. He uses over ten different varieties of sugars in his kitchen.
"Pastry chefs are like glorified drug dealers. [Sugar is] highly addictive and gives you pleasure. We control the amount. We like to put out a healthier dessert"— Chef Miro Uskokovic
Laughing, and daydreaming about my next sugar high, I sadly considered my grandpa who can't eat sugar and is always asking waiters about sugar-free dessert options. PS. I never thought to call a restaurant ahead of time to request a special sugar-free dessert. Apparently, you can! Love knowing and sharing that tidbit! Back to the point, I asked Chef Miro what he does in that situation is that his desserts are complex, artistic and time-consuming.
"I try to find some things I can work with but I can't just [both hands moving in circles like he's standing over a grill] put meat and vegetables on a grill"— Chef Miro Uskokovic
Once his cookie mixture was blended, off to the oven it went to bake.
That's when we moved onto the passion fruit meringue, or as I'm told, a faux meringue because it's made to be extra sweet and delicious by altering the recipe and using condensed milk. I know, pure heavenly insanity.
Up to the prep station in the savory kitchen, we went to go and assemble the completed Chocolate Trifle.
When you eat this dish, do me a favor and don't be delicate. Make sure that every bite—especially the first—picks up a bit of each layer. The chocolaty, crunchy, tangy and the banana-y creaminess of having it all in one mouthful is like nothing else. When I dug my spoon in, I intended to eat a couple bites and instead demolished the entire dessert scraping the edges of the glass for any remaining morsels. I have to go back for it again, asap! The dessert menu changes frequently, so you and I must get there soon!
If you get there and it's no longer on the menu, I have a gift for you! Chef Miro Uskokovic graciously shared his recipe with me to turn around and share with you! Make it at home! Yes, it'll take quite a bit of time and effort, but trust me it's entirely worth it.
PS. Make extra, you'll want it again (and again)!
Chocolate Trifle by Chef Miro Uskokovic
FOR THE CHOCOLATE CREMEUX. bloom gelatin by adding 2 tablespoons of ice water to hydrate. Combine cream, milk, sugar, salt and vanilla bean and bring to boil. Temper in eggs by gently adding the hot milk mixture and whisking constantly, cook to 82 ̊C (180°F), and strain through a chinois.
Add bloomed gelatin in it. Melt chocolate and add it in. Add Cream and blend it with hand blender to create perfect emulsion, being careful not to incorporate too much air.
Portion into desired glasses. Allow to set in the refrigerator.
FOR THE PASSION FRUIT MERINGUE. combine everything in blender and blend well.
Charge in iSi gun with two chargers (plastic iSi guns are readily available at Bed Bath and Beyond, usually sold as whip cream guns).
FOR THE HAZELNUT CRUMBLE. take 3/4 of toasted hazelnuts and grind into flour. The remaining hazelnuts chop coarsely, but in small pieces, set aside. Mix butter and sugar in a mixer with a paddle attachment until it’s creamed but not too light and fluffy. Sift the flour with salt and mix with cacao nibs, hazelnut flour, and hazelnut pieces. Add this mixture to the butter sugar mixture and mix well to combine into crumble. Spread on sheet trays and bake, breaking it up every few minutes.
FOR THE PASSION FRUIT CARAMEL. combine syrup and sugar in a pot and bring to boil. Add cream and salt, and mix well.
When it comes to boil, turn down the temperature and reduce liquids by 1⁄4.
Remove from heat, add butter and emulsify cold butter using hand blender. Cool down.
TO ASSEMBLE. layer the hazelnut crumble on top of the chocolate cremeux that chilled in the glasses.
In a separate bowl, toss the bananas with enough of the passion fruit caramel to coat and add as a layer. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt in each cup. Top with the passion fruit meringue. Garnish with a small amount of fresh passion fruit seeds.