Forks up, Phoenix! Chow Bella and Roosevelt Row present the third annual Pie Social Saturday, November 3rd, from 2 to 6 p.m. on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. We've got an all-star line up of bakers making pies for you to taste, and from now til Pie Social, we'll introduce them to you, one by one. We challenged each to make us a dish -- anything but pie.
Today: Chef David Duarte of the Hyatt Regency Phoenix makes peanut butter crunch bars.
Walking into the kitchen at the Hyatt Regency kitchen feels a little bit like how we imagine it would be to walk into a room in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Everything seems over-sized, dramatic and it just makes you want to smile -- and that last part applies to the pastry chef, too.
Toward the back of the kitchen maze you'll find the small room where Chef David Duarte, pastry supervisor for the hotel, creates his desserts. When we drop by, late on a Wednesday, he tells us we caught him on a rare slow day. And although he says he usually rocks out to Lady Gaga Pandora station, today the music's off. Really, David? Lady Gaga?
"Oh yeah!" he says. "Sometimes I go real old school and listen to Spice Girls radio. I'm an out loud and proud Spice Girls lover."
Growing up Duarte says he always enjoyed being in the kitchen. But despite his culinary inclinations, Duarte insists he has science in his blood. He says he didn't consider cooking a "real job," which means he spent three years at the University of Arizona studying Math and Chemistry before following his passion for the culinary arts.
People tend to comparing baking to science and if you believe there's truth in the comparison, then you won't be surprised to learn that Duarte is just as good at science and math as he is in the kitchen with a whisk and a buffalo chopper -- more on the buffalo chopper later. Duarte tells us his favorite of the sciences is chemistry and that his dream job would probably be something involving playing with fire.
"In high school I was a TA for a chemistry class and I got to lead a thing called Fire Fridays," he says. "So most of the time -- ok, all of the time -- I'd give a presentation that involved fire."
Today, Duarte is whipping up a large batch of award-winning Peanut Butter Crunch Bars. If you made it out to Caramelpalooza 2012, then you'll probably recognize these chocolate-y, layered treats. They're the not-so-distant cousins to the Dulce de Leche Praline Crunch Bars that won Duarte Best Traditional Caramel.
Duarte knows the recipe by heart and moves back-and-forth from the pastry room to the bubbling pots that hold various ingredients. As he works we talk about pie, of course, and find out Duarte's Caramelpalooza win has only whetted his thirst for me.
"I'm pretty competitive," he says. "I don't like to lose."
He dilutes his apparent desire to win by admitting a little later on that he doesn't actually like baking pies. He prefers making cakes and shows us a tray filled with fondant Halloween-themed birthday decorations.
"I made those days ago," Duarte says with a smile. "I just want to make that cake already!"
We bring the conversation back to pie and find out his favorite flavor is pumpkin, with cherry bringing up the bottom of the list. By this time Duarte's already well on his way to finishing the bars and from what seems like no where, he returns with a tray of peanut brittle. He cracks the brittle into large chunks and heads over to a machine that looks like it could have come from an autobody shop, not a commercial kitchen.
"This is a buffalo chopper," he explains, sensing our confusion. "They use it to make ground beef usually, but I use it too."
Ingenuity at work. He pours a mixture of brittle and pretzels into the chipper and sure enough it comes out the other side in a consistency perfect for making candy bars. In under five minutes he pulverizes the entire batch. Using a normal-sized food processor, the process would have taken....like, forever. Now, he tells us it's time pour the layers and add the toppings.
While putting on the finishing touches, we discuss upcoming Halloween plans. As it turns out, Duarte's creative juice keep flowing outside of the kitchen. His past costumes -- always homemade -- include Bert and Ernie and Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange.
Before we know it we're staring at two trays of Peanut Butter Crunch Bars. We snap a few photos and wish Duarte good luck with his pies before attempting to take our leave. Before we take a step towards the door, our gracious host offers to show us out of the kitchen, knowing full well we'd be wandering around for days on our own.
Want to read about the other competitors? Brady Breese Makes Pumpkin Bread Joan O'Connor Makes Mediterranean Pasta Salad Monti Carlo Makes Banana Bread Muffins Mamma Toledo Makes Egg Sammies with Horseradish Cheese Slade Grove Makes Gluten-Free Amaretti Cookies Jeff Kraus Makes the "First Time Crepe" -- Nutella, Elderflower, Spiced Walnuts and More David Duarte Makes Peanut Butter Crunch Bars Winnona Herr Makes Butterscotch Bananas Foster Pudding