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Entertaining

Pavlova Actually

Eat dinner like one of NYC's best pastry chefs: Make it all desserts
Tracy Obolsky's Dessert Dinner Party
Video & Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table 

"Would you like some water?" Tracy Obolsky cheerfully asks Jessica Weiss, the pastry chef from Maialino and Marta in New York City.

"I don't want to dilute my float," Weiss says sheepishly in between spoonfuls of rum-soaked ice cream.

The gals gathered at the table bust out in laughter. It is that kind of party. No trays of precious hors d'oeuvres, no nibbles from the cheese board—rather this party is all about sweet poufs of pavlova (see the recipe), big scoops of cool watermelon granita (see the recipe) and, of course, those Dark and Stormy floats (see the recipe).

What else would you expect from Obolsky, the pastry chef at North End Grill in New York City, when she throws a party with fellow pastry chef friends?

"I think it's hard for people to get together, eat lots of sweets, get a sugar high and not have a great time," Obolsky says very matter-of-factly.

Clearly, she's on to something—and people are taking notice. Two years ago, she was nominated for Food & Wine's People's Best New Pastry Chef: East Region, and this year, StarChefs named her a Rising Star Pastry Chef.

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With her wavy surfer hair tied back in a ponytail, Obolsky is equal parts goofball and genius. Straddling those two, she's in her element, whether gushing over front-row seats she won to an upcoming Van Halen concert or describing the Zen of turning eggy custard into silky ice cream. And her enthusiasm is infectious.

"I like to pull from things that just make you smile," Obolsky says. "It's pretty cool that I get to go in every day and recreate these really nice desserts in a really nice restaurant but that are based off something as simple as a Good Humor bar."

Instead of following the current trend of minimalist, so-modern-it-hurts desserts, Obolsky draws in diners at North End Grill with an endearing style she's dubbed "nostalgia turned on its head." That means cramming actual sticky buns into one luscious ice cream for over-the-top sundaes and sprinkling carnival funnel cake with the same aromatics you'd find in chai or Earl Grey.

"My desserts are never gonna be a quenelle of something with crumbs, and on the menu, it says, 'peas, yogurt, strawberries,'" she says.

If those other pastry chefs are like some Pitchfork-approved indie tunes you've never heard of, Obolsky is more like that one Journey song you always belt out at karaoke—a breath of fresh air.

That's her niche. She toys with the flavors and textures we know and love, such as old-school pavlova, and transforms them into something fresh and delicious, like said pavlova spiked with pink peppercorns and dotted with grilled cherries.

"They sort of taste like Scotch, right?" Obolsky muses. "Grilling the cherries makes them smoky, almost peaty."

Her comrades nod in agreement, admiring the technique. They quiet down for bowls of icy fresh watermelon granita, but the real showstopper at this party isn't Obolsky's recipe at all, but a two-tiered walnut torte originally created by her grandmother (see the recipe).

"My mother would make it for the bake sale at school, and she would sell out of it before she even got into the gymnasium. Something about this was always so comforting to eat," she remembers. "But I'm a pastry chef, so I have to ask myself, 'How do I make it better?'"

That extra oomph is a bit of salt—"You need salt in everything"—and buttermilk for tang and moisture. Together, it makes for something that's familiar and delicious, generous and genuine, and surprising all at the same time.

A little like Obolsky herself.

Get the menu:
• Dark and Stormy Floats
• Pink Pepper Pavlova with Grilled Cherries
• Watermelon Granita
• Walnut Torte with Roasted Peaches

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