Off the bustling streets of downtown Charlotte and through the revolving door of the Ritz-Carlton is a wonderland known as Bar Cocoa (www.barcocoacharlotte.com). With rows of colorful macaroons, rich chocolate truffles and tarts, Bar Cocoa is the hotel's corner confectionery. Pastry chef Jeanette Payne, who graduated from Johnson and Wales University in 2007, has been in the kitchen baking signature desserts like the bar cocoa — a chocolatey dessert with a Kit-Kat crunch layer on the bottom, a chocolate mousse in the center and a hazelnut gianduja glaze on the outside. On Saturdays, she hosts hands-on culinary classes where she shares her cooking knowledge and sends participants home with a book full of recipes, a box full of sweets and a belly full of sugar.
Creative Loafing: What do you hope people get out of your cooking classes?
Jeanette Payne: I love that we have a lot of repeats. I send everyone home with a book with all the recipes in it. Typically the recipes for one class will only take up the first five or six pages and then I have some blanks. When they come back for a second class, they can keep adding to it and keep building. I love that we have a couple people now that are on their second volume. When they come back for their second or third class, they'll tell me things like, "Oh, remember that chocolate cake we made? I made it for my son's birthday and everyone at the party loved it."
What inspired you to become a pastry chef?
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to cook in general. Once I got my first job with a catering company is when I finally figured out that it was pastry that I loved. It wasn't until I started getting in the industry that I realized there is a big, big difference between pastry and regular cooking. And it was that detail-oriented, scientific nature of pastry that I loved so much. When you're playing with flavors, you can get creative. But in the actual making of the cake or sauce, you definitely have to follow the recipe.
What do you need to know about chocolate when working with it as a primary ingredient?
There definitely are many different styles. It's kind of like wine in the fact that there can be many different flavor profiles. You can now get single origin chocolates, you can get blends. They've started growing cocoa beans in places that they used to grow bananas years before. So you can almost start to get banana notes just because they're now using soil that used to grow other things. Or, they'll purposely grow chocolate right next to fields that grow other things so it will start to blow over other flavors. There is more to chocolate than just the straight percentage, because everyone thinks the higher the percentage, the darker the chocolate. There's more components. Sometimes in chocolate, you've just got to taste it. Without being able to decipher all of the things on the label, you've kind of just got to go for it. It's kind of like a wine — if you personally like it, go for it, eat it, drink it, use it in your recipe.