Cobaya Tea Party with Chef Antonio Bachour
The first time I sampled pastry chef Antonio Bachour's work was at a Cobaya dinner with Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog a couple years ago. We'd held the event in a warehouse in Little Haiti which, among other challenges, didn't have the greatest air conditioning. It was probably nearly 90° in the dining room and at least ten degrees warmer in the "kitchen." Not exactly ideal conditions, and yet Bachour, with a big fan blowing in a back room, plated some absolutely exquisite desserts, even managing to turn out perfect quenelles of green apple sorbet among about a dozen other elements on the plate.
At the time, Bachour was working at the W South Beach, and the word was that he would be pastry chef at The Dutch when it opened in a few months. Instead, he took his talents to the St. Regis Bal Harbour and the very talented Josh Gripper came to the Dutch - a win-win for Miami diners.
Bachour is an incredible talent. We knew that we'd want to find a way for him to do his own Cobaya event, but the prospect of an all-desserts meal was a bit daunting. And then Mrs. F provided the inspiration: why not do an afternoon tea? It was perfect. We had a weekend afternoon event for a change of pace, with a combination of savory and sweet components, following at least loosely in the format of a traditional tea service.
(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya Bachour flickr set.)
The St. Regis provided a beautiful venue - a lounge area in the resort - and their typical over-the-top service - sabered champagne, free-flowing mimosas, even some live music. And Bachour, with a savory assist from hotel chef Tom Parlo, provided an equally over-the-top menu.
To start, a golden egg, filled with a couple more kinds of eggs: a creamy egg salad, laid over a puddle of cucumber gelee, topped with a generous dollop of caviar. This was a delicious, indulgent few bites, fully worthy of its ornate presentation.
Next, a round of tender scones with berry jam, citrus curd and clotted cream - very classical.
A platter of savory tea sandwiches was classical in format, but modernized in the execution. It included a hearty smorrebrod with a miniature composed nicoise salad (tuna, cherry tomatoes, green beans, olives and a quail egg); a savory eclair filled with cream cheese and topped with a ribbon of smoked salmon and a salmon macaron; a burrata salad assembled over shortbread with dried tomatoes, basil and balsamic caviar; a perfect mini lobster roll tucked into a brioche bun; and a cornet filled with curried chicken salad, topped with a crisp dried strawberry.
Then it was time for a rather unbridled dessert presentation - probably more than 20 different sweet compositions assembled by Chef Bachour, on a buffet that seemed to go on forever and was replenished as rapidly as it was depleted. I don't think I managed to get pictures and descriptions of everything, much less sample them all, but here's a faithful attempt:
Gorgeous verrines with layers of flavors and textures: lychee mousse with berries and raspberry foam, with crisp little white chocolate balls; dulcey (a toasty "blond chocolate" from Valrhona) topped with passionfruit and chocolate; pineapple jam topped with a jiggly coconut panna cotta, and more coconut cream. (Pictured above, at the top of this post - rich dulce de leche tarts wrapped in chocolate; key lime tarts topped with raspberries; and chocolate tarts topped with a dome of cherry mousse).
More verrines: key lime pie in a jar, topped with fresh blueberries; tiramesu, with chocolate ladyfingers and coffee mousse; and caramelia (another Valrhona product) with apple compote, namelaka and caramael.
Here's mango ganache, topped with a tea mousse, honey jelly and candied pecans; puffy profiteroles with a little passion fruit injection; dulcey mousse over a red velvet cake base, topped with a passion fruit gelée and a thin chocolate sheet.
Perfect macarons in a variety of hues and flavors.
Eclairs, financiers topped with pistachios, and finally, a technicolor assortment of bon bons.
Bachour's desserts look spectacular; but what I find truly remarkable is that his creations taste every bit as good as they look. I don't particularly have a sweet tooth, but still find his work utterly compelling. The flavors are vibrant, often echoing our tropical landscape. There's a great interplay of textures, almost always offering some combination of creamy and crunchy, rich and light to hold interest. These are not some of the best desserts I've tried in South Florida - they are some of the best I've had anywhere. I've said it to Antonio and will say here: we should feel very lucky to have this kind of talent here in Miami.
If you're interested in seeing more of Antonio Bachour's work, I'd suggest you order his book, Bachour, available for pre-order at Amazon; follow his twitter, instagram or flickr or account, which provide a regularly updated preview of his latest creations; or just pay a visit to J&G Grill in the St. Regis.
A big thank you to Chef Bachour, to St. Regis hotel chef Tom Parlo, to the entire crew at the St. Regis who helpd make this Saturday afternoon something special, and of course most of all, to the guinea pigs whose interest and support make these events possible.
 Another very good reason to do so: Brad Kilgore, who was in the kitchen for our Cobaya dinner at Azul a couple years ago, and cooked one of my favorite meals of last year, is now Chef de Cuisine at J&G.