Pastry chef and New Orleans native David Guas, who until recently was the face behind the desserts at the Passion Food Group restaurants (DC Coast, TenPenh, Acadiana, Ceiba, Passionfish), just released his first cookbook, DamGood Sweet. Many of the recipes come with passages about the traditions—both personal and historical—that are associated with them. (Guas remembers eating powdered-sugar-covered beignets at Café du Monde as a reward for good church behavior.) Currently, Guas is working on finding a location for Bayou Bakery, which will feature many of the pastries in his cookbook. In between scouting spaces, he sat down with us to chat about what he’s making on Thanksgiving and the recipe he craves the most.
What was the inspiration for the book?
“Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, my parents came to the decision not to move back to New Orleans, and I struggled with that. My wife is from New Orleans as well, and without having that anchor of my folks, part of my identity was threatened. I said to myself, ‘I need to get something down on paper,’ and it made the most sense to write a cookbook because that’s what I do. I decided this was going to be a little different—not just desserts and recipes I’ve created, but it’s going to be chock-full of stories and give people a glimpse of my personality, my raising up, and honoring the city I grew up in. Instead of a downer of a book after Katrina, I wanted to highlight what the city meant to me.”
How would you describe New Orleans desserts?
“Like any Southern city, the desserts are very comforting, and they represent a mixture of cultures that descended onto New Orleans as a major port. Bananas, for example, were one of the largest commodity items to come through, and coffee. Bread pudding is a traditional dessert, with all the great bakeries we’ve had there.”
Did the recipes come from your childhood, or were they inspired by any other pastry chefs?
“It’s a combination. The inspiration behind the desserts definitely came from childhood, from things I remember growing up with and from southwestern Louisiana, where my Aunt Boo is from. The versions of the recipes that I present are hugely impacted by my professional career.”
Were there any recipes you tried but couldn’t get to work—any kitchen disasters?
“Not too many with the book. After all the years of cooking, I looked at the last 12 or 13 years of recipes and said, ‘There’s gotta be a book in here.’ That was what I wanted to do—take things that weren’t out of my reach, things that represented comfort and what I grew up with. The kind of book I wanted to write is the kind that the average Joe could pick up and just cook from—85 percent of the ingredients would be in your pantry already.”
What’s your favorite recipe in the book?
“One that I’ve been reproducing a lot since the book’s been completed is the banana pudding. I’m a pudding guy—I love puddings, always have. All my friends, family, and press people who got an advance copy of the book say they made the lemon icebox pie. As simple as it is, it’s delicious.”
What dessert does your family ask you to make?
“My boys love chocolate pudding and the red-velvet cupcakes, and my wife likes the lemon icebox pie.”
What recipe would you recommend for pulling something together at the last minute?
“Once you gather your mise en place, as long as you have some backup Häagen-Dasz vanilla ice cream, the bananas Foster can be ready in minutes. And if you’ve got an open kitchen, you can show off with the alcohol flambé.”
For making something to bring to a dinner party in two hours?
“This time of year, the sweet-potato tarte Tatin. Start to finish, it’s 45 minutes by the time you make the caramel, you pour it into the cast-iron pan, slice up the sweet potatoes, lay ’em in there, cut out a disk of store-bought puff pastry, and it takes about 35 to 40 minutes in the oven. Throw it in the trunk, and flip it out of the pan when you get there.”
For the end of a romantic dinner?
“The double-chocolate bread pudding is pretty much out of control. It has a little hint of salt and bourbon, and nothing says romance like a little booze.”
For something ridiculously easy that looks like it wasn’t easy?
“The lemon-herbsaint poppers. It’s essentially an adult Jell-O. In the book, I explain that you can also use Pernod, another licorice-flavored alcohol. The poppers are very simple and can be made in about five minutes. You can dress it up by putting it in any vehicle—like a martini glass.”
For a dessert that’s easy to double for a large gathering?
“Definitely the puddings and a lot of the pies—or you can make a pudding and put it in a pie shell. At the end of the day, doubling is doubling—they’re all easy to double as long as you have the extra pan to bake it in.”
What are you going to make for Thanksgiving?
“I do the fried turkey, and my mom does her oyster stuffing, but dessert is one of those things that I’m a lot less insistent upon. I’ve got my hands full with frying the turkey. For me, it comes down to boozing time. Everything is complete by Wednesday morning. Thursday, I want to get the oil hot, fry the turkey, and open some great wines.”
For a visitor to New Orleans, what are the top three places to go for dessert?
“Number one is definitely Café du Monde. Sit there, feed the pigeons, and eat the beignets. Two, the bread-pudding soufflé at Commander’s Palace. Third, Aunt Sally’s for pralines. And Galatoire’s for bread pudding or cup custard. Also Brennan’s for bananas Foster. Oh, you know who does a mean pecan pie? The Camellia Grill. They cut the wedge and throw it on the flat top to caramelize and sear the pecan side on the grill—it’s very unique. Mr. B’s Bistro makes a great pecan pie, too.”
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