Sarah Rich, the chef behind Rich Table (she runs it with her husband, Evan), is all about using indigenous dishes native to the region. Growing up in Louisiana, she admits their restaurant is the embodiment of the farm to table scene. Rich is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and cut her teeth (and met her husband) at Bouley, along with other NYC restaurants.
In 2007 they headed west where Sarah took a sous chef position at Michael Mina, and then to Coi. They opened Rich Table in 2012. Soon after, in 2014, Sarah was included on Food & Wine‘s “2014 list of Best New Pastry Chefs” where she was described as “a genius at transforming familiar American desserts like s’mores, always adding a savory ingredient—fresh herbs, for instance—to balance out a bit of the sweetness.”
Symrise sat down with her.
Symrise: How do you get your inspiration for your creations?
Rich: I really think that what people want at the end of the meal is something comfortable and familiar. That doesn't necessarily mean something simple. But I really take inspiration from desserts that I have enjoyed in my past. I usually find inspiration from childhood favorites and go from there.
Symrise: What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with and why?
Rich: We have such great produce here in California that I always like to incorporate fresh fruits into my desserts. The trick is to keep them fresh and bright even if they're cooked or sweetened. Acids such as citrus juices or fresh herbs like sorrel can help with this. I also use a touch of salt in everything I do. It's important not to use too much, but a little salt helps to bring out flavors and add a nice contrast to all of the sweet.
Symrise: Any new ingredients or flavor combinations you are working with?
Rich: There's not one thing in particular I can think of right now, but I would say that it's exciting as the seasons change to think of new ways to use fruits or even vegetables in my desserts. For example I have made a cherry tomato tarte tatin with white chocolate and basil sorbet that was a knockout, really unexpected and delicious.
Symrise: Are desserts your most fun things to make? Or do you like to do a variety of items?
Rich: My real training is in savory, and honestly I prefer it. But it has been really fun to learn pasty and challenge myself with it. Understanding pastry has made me a much better cook overall, and much more well-rounded.
Symrise: Do any particular chefs inspire you and if so, who are they and how do they help?
Rich: So many chefs inspire and help me. Everyone I've ever worked for, my husband of course. I've had some great mentors…David Bouley, Galen Zamarra, Chris L'Hommedieu, Bill Corbett. And of course there's always something to be learned from the cooks you work with. Inspiration and learning can come from anywhere.
Symrise: What would people be surprised to know about the "sweet" side of the business?
Rich: How hard it is. People have this idea that the savory side is where the real challenge is. But pastry is very specific, very scientific, it takes a delicate hand. It is just as challenging to develop a balanced, well-rounded dessert as it is to do the same with a savory dish. And the hours and effort required are no different in pastry than in savory.