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Q&A with Empire State South's Cynthia Wong

ATL Food Chatter: June 21, 2011
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The recent hire of pastry chef Cynthia Wong boosts an already stellar team at Empire State South. The Mobile, AL native starts work there today. Wong was a 2010 James Beard finalist for her desserts at Decatur’s Cakes & Ale, where she bridged homey and sophisticated takes on sweets with an emphasis on seasonal fruits. She began her baking career in San Francisco, earned her culinary degree in France, worked at a bakery in Barcelona, and was production manager at still-missed Via Elisa. Wong fills us in on her move to ESS.

Q: When did you decide to move on from Cakes & Ale and why Empire State South?
CW: There wasn't an exact date, so much as an initial feeling that grew. I loved Cakes & Ale and I will always be grateful that I got to work with and be supported by [chef/owner] Billy Allin, who’s such an insanely talented chef. He and my husband are best friends, and ultimately it can be tough to work with someone who feels like family. I chose Empire State South because I love the food, and I really wanted to work with Ryan Smith.

Q: Will your approach to baking change at ESS?
CW: My baking will still be very seasonal and fruit-focused, but I'll get the chance to branch out more, use ingredients and executions that are possible only in a larger kitchen. I love that creamed kimchi was on the menu. I want to explore Asian ingredients in Southern sweets. I'll have a Pacojet to play with!

Q: What are your aspirations for the bakery program [displayed on the large table near the coffee counter]?
CW: I'd like to have it all small-batch, baked throughout the day, including hot cookies in the afternoon. I'd like to lure everyone out of their offices at 999 and downstairs for a treat. Sometimes you just really need some cookies to get through the day! I'd love to start offering my levain-based croissants, danishes, and English muffins for breakfast, and some of my favorite items such as buttercrunch shortbread and bittersweet passionfruit ganache bars. Further down the line, I'd like to start baking the bread in-house. I got my start as a bread baker, and that's where a big piece of my heart is.

Q: What new items can we look forward to on Empire's dessert menu?
CW: Peach moonshine float; honey-roasted black plums with Greek yogurt semifreddo and almond kataifi; bay leaf panna cotta with peaches and peach-moscato sorbet; pain d'epices (French spice cake) ice cream with raspberry dacquoise and raspberries.

Q: When you have time, where do you like to eat around town?
CW: I've always loved the heck out of Empire State South, of course. I also love H Harper Station. Full disclosure: I am the consulting pastry chef there, but I've loved it since it opened, long before I was part of it: It is exactly what I want in a neighborhood restaurant. Just about my favorite place, though, is Tomo. Chef Tomo’s food is absolutely pristine and if you call ahead and arrange omakase, he'll serve you food on plates he made with his own freakin' hands.

NEWS AND NOTES:

Creative Loafing reports on one of the latest food trucks to hit the circuit: Honey Gelato, featuring a roster of Southern influenced flavors like mint julep, bourbon pecan, ginger molasses, and “Waffle House Gelato” made from actual Waffle House batter.  

Speaking of food trucks, Low Country Barbecue and Tex’s Tacos have teamed up to put some of Low Country’s award winning pork on the popular Tex-Mex food truck’s menu. The Atlanta based barbecue caterer’s pulled pork will be featured in Tex ’s Tacos Pulled Pork Tacos and Quesadillas, according to a press release.

Daniel Gorman
, sous chef at Cherokee Town Club, Atlanta, won a gold medal and first place in the Hans Bueschkens World Junior Chefs Challenge semifinals for the Americas at the Canadian Culinary Federation’s 2011 National Conference . The twenty-three-year old Gorman now advances to the worldwide competition in South Korea in May 2012.

Buckhead. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Market Street Cafe has opened in the Prominence Building at 3475 Piedmont Road, the space once occupied by Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine. The cafe is operated by Sterling Spoon Culinary Management and will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 3p.m., Monday through Friday.

Cabbagetown. Sweet Cheats, featuring cupcakes, “cruffles” (cupcake truffles), doughnuts and other sweet treats, has opened at 692-B Kirkwood Avenue.

Castleberry Hill. Thrillist reports that Amari Bar and Dessert Lounge featuring comfort food, cocktails and an eclectic dessert menu, has opened at 180-B Northside Drive.

Inman Park. What Now Atlanta noted that Candi’s For Breakfast in the Irwin Street Market has closed.

Midtown. The Johnson Studio is designing the Atlanta 5 Napkins Burger store slated to open at 10th and Piedmont this summer.
 
Poncey Highland. Eater caught up with Richard Blais this weekend at the Aspen Food & Wine Festival and he shared some tantalizing tidbits about his forthcoming HD: The name stands for Haute Doggery; it will be about 3,000-square-feet and have a rooftop bar; and it will serve beer only in cans and the space will have a dark, almost Goth look. He said that HD would open in the next couple of weeks and also hinted that he has another Atlanta project in the works.

Virginia Highland. Veteran Atlanta chef Ian Winslade is now top toque at Murphy’s, Creative Loafing reports.

Westside. Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison were named to Food & Wine Magazine’s 50 Hall of Fame Best New Chefs in the Hometown Heroes category for keeping their restaurant empire local. [Editor’s note: Floataway’s tagliatelle with white shrimp seems an odd choice as their signature dish. What about Bacchanalia’s crab fritter with citrus, avocado, and Thai essence?—B.A.]

Question of the Week: What Atlanta chef was named 2010 Southeast Region Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation?

PS. The answer to last week’s QOTW—What ATL burger joint received some serious love from Serious Eats in a recent review?—is Grindhouse Burgers’ second location. Writer Todd Brock loved the Apache Burger, the pimento Cheesy Poofs and the “quirky and cool setting.”