Flaky Tart Makes Beard Short List

The James Beard Foundation today named the 2015 semifinalists for its 21-category Chef and Restaurant Awards. New Jersey had four semi-finalists, all but one predictable. The one that leaped out to me was Marie Jackson of Flaky Tart in Atlantic Highlands, nominated for Outstanding Baker in the U.S.

New Jersey is blessed with great bakeries—French, American, Italian and otherwise, for breads as well as pastries.

But any short list of Jersey’s best dessert bakeries in my opinion would have to include Flaky Tart. The crumb cake alone is worth the trip from anywhere. The crunchy yet yielding crumb top, a paradox in a box, is thick and flavorful (cinnamon and nutmeg?), not just sweet. And the white cake underneath has heft. It isn’t just a platform for the stellar topping.

Flaky Tart’s pecan sticky bun raises another oft-debased treat to remarkable heights. The texture of the bun is dense, with a crisp surface, a marvelous thing to bite into and thoughtfully chew while sipping hot coffee and marveling at the dark toasty crunch of the armadillo-like layer of pecans on top.

Then there are the world-class peanut butter cookies. Ninety percent of all peanut butter desserts are not worth eating. None can beat a layer of crunchy Jif or Skippy spread on a Nabisco chocolate wafer (or an Oreo scraped clean of its waxy filling).

Almost all peanut butter desserts are too sweet. But the real sin is that they are pathetically pallid in the peanut department. Not so the Flaky Tart’s sweet-salty crunchy-crumbly peanut butter cookies.

And that’s to say nothing of Flaky Tart’s beautiful cakes, tarts, tortes and elaborate creations.

Anyway, I hope Jackson wins.

The other NJ nominees are definitely deserving, but there is a usual suspects quality here, a lack of imagination or investigation on the part of the judges or nominators. You have…

Joey Baldino of Zeppoli in Collingswood (Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic)
Maricel Presilla of Cucharamama and Zafra in Hoboken (Outstanding Chef, U.S.)
Scott Anderson of Elements in Princeton (Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic)

All three have earned repeat appearances on NJM’s annual list of Top 25 restaurants in the state. All three have been Beard nominees, and Presilla has won twice, as a chef and for her magisterial book on Latin American cooking.

But what about in no particular order…

Peter Turso of Ursino in Union
Bruce Lefebvre of The Frog and the Peach in New Brunswick
Ben Nerenhausen of Mistral in Princeton (admittedly a Rising Star Chef nominee in 2014)
Jamie Knott of the Saddle River Inn in Saddle River
Lucas Manteca of Red Store in Cape May Point (a Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic nominee in 2014)

or even…

Jean-Paul Lourdes of Restaurant Latour in the Crystal Springs Resort in Sussex County?

Though Lourdes recently departed, his year at Latour was extraordinary, a world-class performance by an artist as talented and knowledgable as he was fanatical and inflexible.

Meanwhile, Scott Anderson, widely recognized as one of New Jersey’s most adventurous chefs, wasn’t even in his kitchen for most of 2014. Elements closed last summer in order to move into new quarters in downtown Princeton in the same building as Mistral. Anderson and Steven Distler, who own both restaurants, had expected to reopen Elements in January of this year, but the date has been pushed off toward spring.

As much as Anderson is widely respected and honored, I don’t see how one can argue that 2014 was his year to contend for a Beard Award.

 

 

 

Click here to leave a comment
Click to enlarge images
Read more From the Editors articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.