Taria Camerino talks new pastries, Sweet Genius, and the future of Sugar-Coated Radical

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Taria Camerino, creative director for the pastry programs of Ford Fry’s restaurants and founder of the now-shuttered Sugar-Coated Radical, doesn’t believe in desserts simply tasting good: Instead, she says dining is about the experience. She feels she has “an obligation” to move people, and has been studying diners at No. 246, JCT Kitchen and the Optimist to figure out how to best “engage” them, then rework the dessert menus to better reflect her discoveries. Below, she divulges the sweet details and shares her plans to re-open Sugar-Coated Radical in 2014.

On the new pastry window at No. 246
We’ve tripled dessert sales. It’s my goal to have everyone walk away eating something sweet. At 246, I’ve reduced the dessert size and designed them to pair with cocktails. The bestseller is the Harvey Darko—a beer cocktail paired with 65 percent flourless chocolate cake with salted, whipped mascarpone and candied citron.

On the Optimist
I’m redesigning the menu layout so it’s representative of the restaurant. My style is to capture the feeling of a space. I’m sick of seeing dessert plates with the ice cream and the crumbs. We can do so much more if we rely on other senses: kinesthetic and visual.

On the Optimist executive chef Adam Evans
Adam really likes ice cream, and ice creams are generally an afterthought. I thought, “How can I make a dessert menu entirely out of afterthoughts?” So I scrapped the way dessert menus are laid out and made it “ice cream and novelties.” The format of the menu will look like the side of an ice cream truck—all packed in—so people will be like “I want that, No, I want that!” There will be snow cones (coconut-lime, pomegranate), spoon straws and all; moon pies (chocolate with black pepper marshmallow); and ice cream sandwiches with hazelnut meringue cookies and juniper ice cream ribboned with lemon curd.

The new menu will be ready soon. Everything will have to be unwrapped, but it will all be compostable of course. We’ll have the [ice cream] drumsticks, the ice cream cups with the tab tops. I’m using matcha green tea for a play on strawberry shortcake ice cream bars. The boardwalk feel here is a perfect fit!

On JCT Kitchen
At JCT, we’re [calling the dessert menu] Cakes, Pies and Confections. We’ll have maybe four of each. I want to do pound cake—not toasted, not grilled, no sauce. It will be served warm with salted butter—two cakes designed to share, served in the pan they’re made in.

We’ll have English toffee and chocolate rum balls, peanut butter nougat covered in chocolate—all in tins so you can take them home. I’ll have this all ready by the end of February at the latest.

On King and Duke
King and Duke is scheduled to open around April 1. My inspiration is London—the early settlers were British. London embodies tradition and is leading the art-based food movement. I’ll have cruller for dessert because they sell them on the street in London. It’s a cross-cultural expression.

On the upcoming James Beard dinner
I’m also working on the James Beard dinner for March. The point is inspiration and I’m inspired by travel. The dessert is a travel kit in the clear zip-up bag and everything. In it, I’ll have chocolates from a Brooklyn chocolate company, a jar of mousse, whatever I can forage before the dinner. I’ll be pulling from small, ethically minded, genius-in-their-own-right places.

On her debut on the Food Network’s Sweet Genius
The show was beautiful. I wasn’t competitive. I stayed in a meditative state the entire time. This really affected the way the show played out. There was no cattiness. I finished every round early.

Other television thoughts
I’d like to do more TV. The producer wants to talk to me about doing my own show. That would be phenomenal—not because I’d be on TV but because there are so many things to show people.

On plans to reopen Sugar-Coated Radical
Not in the same way, but I do have some plans. When [my partner] Ashley [Henson] and I opened, the intention was to be a lot more collaborative than it was. I’d like to do something in about one-and-a-half years. The way I [originally] intended, even if that means going back underground and just doing events again.

I’d like to make Ashley’s sense of design equal to the candy. Ashley’s a screen printer and is working on some edible pieces. She did lick-able wallpaper for a Barbara Archer art show. [At the new Sugar-Coated Radical], you’d be able to buy her shirts and posters.

I have no idea yet [where the new Sugar-Coated Radical would be]. We have to wait for that space to show up. I’m still trying to convince Ford [Fry] to build me a bakery. It will happen; it’s a matter of when.

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