Profile: Farzam Fallah – Intersecting Pastry & Cocktails
While creating pastries in Hong Kong a few years back Farzam Fallah was also surreptitiously eyeing the bar.
Not because he was in any great need for a drink, but because an idea was percolating in the back of Fallah’s head.
“I was sitting in a position where I could see what the bartender was doing,” says Fallah, who first caught public attention for his acclaimed pastries at Richmond Station in Toronto before being headhunted by a restaurant group in Hong Kong. “This bartender in particular was always open for discussion. He loved talking about his craft and the ingredients that he was using. As I was watching him work, I noticed how similar he worked to the way that I worked in the kitchen.”
Fallah, who was already thinking beyond flour, water, and butter, saw a way in which to continue forward. Moving back to Toronto from Hong Kong he stepped away from his career and made the plunge as a barback, polishing glasses and refilling garnishes, occasionally stepping to the fore when needed. Fallah then picked up a few bartender shifts at Don Alfonso 1890 and the Drake Minibar before becoming bar manager of The Cloak Bar and unleashing his creativity in earnest.
“As with baking, when you’re working behind the bar you have this plethora of ingredients to use and it’s going to be very concise,” Says Fallah, who is a judge on Wall of Bakers which airs on Mondays beginning March 28th at 10pm ET/PT on Food Network Canada. “They’re going to be the exact same every time and you can trust them. So to be able to step into a place where it’s so systematic, and it’s so easy to build formulas and recipes, well, that’s kind of like pastry but on a completely different level.”
When he works as a pastry chef one of Fallah’s considerations is balancing sweet and acid. It’s much the same with cocktails except that he’s throwing bitterness into the mix as well, along with sugar, acid, and other spirits. The medium
may be liquid as opposed to solid ingredients, but the theory remains the same.
“Something I was really exploring when I was plating desserts was figuring out how to explain them,” Fallah says. “How to make someone taste something when I want them to taste it. It’s kind of like when you take a sip of wine. You’re tasting, and at first there are plum notes and then it goes into raspberries, and then it finishes off with oak and vanilla. It has life because it moves through your palate and does different things. So I always had this idea of creating desserts where, as the guest is eating it, I can kind of control at what time or what moments they’re tasting certain things to make that bite very, very intriguing.”
Intriguing indeed, and now Fallah has learned to do that with cocktails as well.
“We were playing around with the classic smoked Martini, like a burnt Martini,” he says. “I figured that if I took a martini glass and first sprayed it with a Laphroaig (scotch), when the guest sips that Martini they’ll taste the martini first and then it’s going to finish with the smoke, because that’s how I built it. It’s manipulating flavors to kind of float on top of each other or be at different densities.”
Fallah is clearly enjoying his time behind the bar, picking up devoted adherents just as he’s done with such yummy pastries as his pumpkin and hazelnut Paris-Brest or saffron cheesecake with brown butter and chickpea crumble. He’s still doing the occasional pastry pop-up, and acknowledges that he’d like to dive back in, but the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself.
“Right now I’m just having a lot of fun,” he says. “I enjoy trying new things, and focusing on the front of house and learning how a restaurant runs as a whole instead of just how our kitchen runs is definitely new and exciting.”
To get to know Farzam a little better, we asked him to answer a few questions:
Where do you live:
Where did you grow up:
Tehran, Iran & Toronto, Canada
Favourite comfort food:
Tinned Tuna on white rice. This was something I’d always be able to find in my mom’s house during the years I went to school and worked full time. I would come home at 3 a.m. and always find cooked rice in the fridge and a tin of tuna in the pantry. If I was lucky, there would be some fresh citrus. I’d douse the tuna in olive oil, salt and pepper and sit in the quiet, trying to get myself to relax after an extreme day at the restaurant.
Favourite ingredient to cook with:
Best childhood food memory:
My father’s aunt hand-feeding me pieces of bread that were dipped into the stew before dinner was set on the table. I would hang around the kitchen while she cooked. I loved being surrounded by the sounds and smells of her kitchen. She would let me try ingredients and taste things as she went along.
Your go-to restaurant that never disappoints:
DaiLo in Toronto. We are always met with friendly faces and assured that we will be eating tasty food.
Who was your most significant culinary influence:
My grandmother. She showed me that I have the ability to manipulate ingredients and make them taste their best.
What do you drink at home:
A lot of tea. I don’t mind a glass of wine here and there. I mainly keep to Sherry and Amaro as a nice little night cap.
Music you listen to while you cook:
Find my playlist on Spotify. It’s called “Old and new with a sprinkle of rap” by The Cloak Bar
Why and when did you start cooking:
I started cooking when I was nine years old. I was fed up with my mom’s cooking and was ready to try things out for myself. Actually, come to think of it, the first thing I ever made for myself was white rice with tinned tuna and a very poorly chopped raw onion. It was terrible.
Vision for the future:
The past couple of years have definitely had their impact on my vision for the future. I hope that the industry is able to spring back and grow with the infrastructure and new knowledge to better the lives of industry workers, and in turn better the industry as a whole.
photo credit: Food Network Canada.