The return of The Four Seasons Restaurant earlier this year marked a new chapter for the iconic and influential NYC eatery, with executive chef Diego Garcia and executive pastry chef Bill Yosses bringing fresh culinary offerings to both regulars of its previous iteration and new guests, while still maintaining the essence of the original.
Yosses, formerly the White House executive pastry chef during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, has crafted a dessert list with nods to Four Seasons traditions plus new offerings inspired by the ingredients of the season. In an interview, Yosses details his vision for the pastry program at The Four Seasons, as well as which desserts each president liked best.
Abigail Abesamis: What was it like making desserts for the Bushes and Obamas?
Bill Yosses: I felt privileged and honored to work at the White House and I certainly loved my time there. Both the Bush family and Obama family were very genuine, natural, considerate and very kind to me. It was fascinating to be next to the historic events that occur there every day. Most of all, I learned about true hospitality from both families. The First Ladies and their social secretaries gave lots of thought to making each event special and each guest feel welcome. The First Ladies wanted a fresh and new menu for each event so it never became “cookie cutter” style. The guest was made to feel that everything had been planned just for their arrival, including linens, lighting, menu and decorations, whether it was a head of state or a guest without a special title.
Abesamis: Did either president have a favorite dessert that you made for them?
Yosses: President Obama is on record for loving pies, and I can attest to that fact. He preferred them to anything else and I sure made a LOT of them.
President Bush on the other hand pretty much never met a dessert he did not like, although pies, cobblers and traditional American desserts were his favorites. Seven-layer chocolate cake always brought a smile to his face, and he never missed the chance to say, “Do I get ice cream with that?”
Abesamis: Tell me about your pastry program at The Four Seasons. What were the most important considerations and inspirations that went into crafting the menu?
Yosses: Creating a menu at The Four Seasons Restaurant was an interesting project and one that seems monumental to me. The restaurant comes from such legendary beginnings and set the tone for dining in America to this day. Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, Eero Saarinen, and Ada Louise Huxtable were the most iconic designers of the mid-century modern era and they were all involved in the restaurant’s inception. As I read many of the old menus, I was impressed with how innovative they were. Ingredients that even seem exotic to us today were already on the menu: wild mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, oysters and cloudberries all made appearances—seasonally, of course.
The most important consideration [in the creation of the menu] was the season. The fall fruit crostata uses persimmon, quince and pears in the filling. The aged rum baba features semi-dried New York state grapes, and the Calvados apple soufflé celebrates the best of New York state apples in its composition.
Abesamis: What are the classic desserts you’ve preserved from the restaurant’s original menu? Have they been updated in any way?
Yosses: I wanted to keep the Four Seasons’ most famous dessert on the menu. The bar room chocolate cake was imagined by the great pastry chef Albert Kumin and we stayed true to the spirit of this dessert, making a chocolate puff pastry layered version with a rich chocolate ganache.
Abesamis: Can you talk about a current menu item that you're excited about? Are there any special touches or ingredients to know?
Yosses: This current menu has my favorite fall/winter ingredient: chestnuts. It is a chestnut cream comparable to a Mont Blanc and is crowned with a marron glacé, a candied glazed chestnut.