A native of South Carolina's Low Country, pastry chef Kelly Fields made a name for herself in New Orleans by baking cakes, pies and other sweet treats in local restaurants. She currently oversees desserts for John Besh's Restaurant August, Domenica, Besh Steak, Borgne, The American Sector and Luke.
: How did your experience growing up in rural South Carolina influence your career as a pastry chef?
Fields: I grew up on the water and we grew most of our own food — a lot of produce, particularly. I remember grabbing ripe tomatoes right off the vine and eating them like apples, which made my mother pretty mad. We'd go shrimping or crabbing, catch what we could, then pick what we could find in the fields to go with it, and that was dinner. It's a pretty cool way to grow up. It's sort of in my blood, but I never really thought about doing it as a career. I moved to New Orleans in 1996 for the first time and started cooking for Your Daily Bread. Then I worked for Susan Spicer, and she taught me so much. The other cooks there called me "googly eyes" because I was always trying to absorb as much as I could, to learn and to get better. It was a fantastic experience.
: You're known for playful but sophisticated desserts. How would you describe your style?
F: I like to think that my desserts are really just fun and interesting. Most of the desserts on the menus have an element of nostalgia to them. At Luke, we have traditional Alsatian French profiteroles, but we add apple pie ice cream and pour apple cider over the top to make it like a traditional apple pie for fall — a taste of my youth.
Banana pudding with Nilla wafers was one of my absolute favorite things to eat growing up, and I've always wanted to use that experience to create a dessert at August. So I decided to do a grown up version of that: banana pudding with peanut butter, marshmallow and Nilla wafer ice cream. What I think about most when I conceptualize desserts is how to combine and contrast flavors and textures. So the banana pudding evolved as a way to present bananas in as many textural ways as I can: a banana cake, banana pudding, caramelized bananas and a banana meringue, which is crispy. But it all goes back to that childhood love.
: Are there any new desserts on the menu at any of your restaurants that diners should check out?
F: There's a new dessert at August that's been on the menu for about a week or so. It was inspired by the Creamsicle, which I loved growing up, as well as local satsumas, which are now really coming into season. I created a satsuma mousse with carrot cake granola and carrot sorbet made from fresh buttermilk. The satsumas come from a trip I made to Israel to visit my best friend, and we drank this fresh carrot-orange juice, which was wonderful. So the sorbet is made to be like that drink — a great combination of orange and carrot flavors and that nostalgic sense of a Creamsicle.