I recently had the opportunity to visit with Certified Master Pastry Chef Frank Vollkommer and his wife, Pastry Chef Jessica Vollkommer, both of The Chocolate Mill in Glens Falls, N.Y. and to observe them at work in their pastry kitchen. It had been a particularly hectic week for the Vollkommers, who have opened their new shop to extraordinary demand, finding it difficult to keep up and even more difficult to find sleep.
Despite their workload and sleeplessness, both chefs still managed to maintain an orderly and neat kitchen, incredible energy and friendly temperaments, not to mention extraordinary product.
Jessica Vollkommer, so far has spent a lot of time in the front of the house ensuring a smooth opening, something that has been accomplished despite the stress of supply having a hard time keeping up with demand. One item that has seen particularly strong demand has been the chocolate croissants. Frank Vollkommer told me that on their first day they had prepared enough of the croissants to last for what he expected would be two days, however, they were sold out by 11AM! Since then, they sell out almost as quickly as they get into the display case. One evening I came in around 5:30PM to pick up a birthday cake that I had ordered (Mango-pineapple mousse -amazing) and the cafe already had sold out of everything but a few patés de fruit. As stressed as the Vollkommers have been about keeping up, the problem beats having too much product. What bothers them the best is having customers come in and be disappointed to not get what they came for.
In light of that stress, it was particularly gracious of the Vollkommers to allow me into their kitchen to observe their work. I did my best to be as unobtrusive as possible. Frank started tempering chocolate for use as garnishes for various cakes. The particular items he was making he referred to as "Stegasaureses", which were thin serrated flat tablets that resembled the plates on a stegosaurus' back. He took the perfectly tempered chocolate and ladled it out onto an acetate mat, quickly following with an off-set spatula to spread it out in a thin, flat layer. The perfectly smooth acetate serves to provide the chocolate with a glossy sheen, once it is removed. He also showed me examples of other surfaces he uses to provide alternate textures for his chocolate work.
Chef Vollkommer uses Cargill chocolate in his work. I was not previously aware that Cargill, a large food conglomerate, actually made chocolate products, but Vollkommer was for some time their chocolate company Executive Chef.The chocolate comes to him from Switzerland, where it is processed. Cargill sources their cacao beans from various sources around the globe.
Once Chef Vollkommer finished spreading the chocolate, he left it for a moment then began stenciling lines using a ruler, creating chocolate strips. After that, he drew in his "stegasaurus plates" free-hand, resulting in a drawing that reminded me of a very scary EKG! Once the outlines were drawn in the chocolate, he placed the tray in the walk-in cooler to firm the chocolate.
In the meantime, the Vollkommer's pastry assistant, the French Culinary Institute trained Diane Fehder, was busy working on individual portions of pineapple mousse cakes, precisely cutting each portion from a rectangular whole.
Chef Vollkommer took another chocolate sheet that had already firmed and cut it up into the smaller pieces that he was looking for to garnish some of their other creations.
At this point, Jessica managed to come back from the front of the house to work on some tarts. She took some already made crusts and painted the tempered chocolate on the insides before filling them with a mousse.
Frank then took some pineapple slices that Diane had sliced and demonstrated his technique and desired endpoint for bruleeing the pineapple slices with a small blow torch and a little added sugar.He then showed her how he wanted the little cakes to be garnished. Once shown, Chef Fehder continued with the remainder of the pineapples before placing them as garnish along with some whipped cream for each individual serving mousse cake.
Not missing a beat, Chef Vollkommer took out a full size version of the same pineapple cake and started to finish it, albeit somewhat differently than the individual portions. He applied a passion fruit glaze across the top before proceeding with the remainder of his precisely detailed work.
The Vollkommers and their staff are producing an artisanal product, the quality of which has likely never before been made in Glens Falls or too many other places outside of a major metropolis for that matter. With this addition, our region is now lucky enough to have two world class patisseries, with The Chocolate Mill joining Saratoga Springs' Mrs. London's. It is an embarrassment of riches that I, for one, am simply thrilled to have nearby. By the looks of things so far, I am not the only one to be so happy, though.