SF Chef Maya Erickson's Black Sesame Dessert
Story by Tanner Latham
Stylized, Sexy, Provocative and Decadent. Everything You Would Expect from a Grandmother’s Recipe
At 13 years old, Maya Erickson was working in a professional kitchen, tasked primarily with filling cookies and wrapping tuiles. She shrugs this detail off now, as if it’s simply a throwaway line unworthy of her bio. As if most newly-turned teenagers must surely have been like her—resisting the temptation to toggle among their screens and choosing, instead, a highly disciplined path.
It is with this kind of casual, unassuming tone that this wunderkind (now she’s in her mid-20s), pastry chef describes her Black Sesame Ice Cream with Black Sesame Pudding, a dessert rooted in her former chef's grandmother’s poppy seed pudding recipe yet presented with a stylized, sexy and provocative manner that’s as arresting and mood-evoking visually as it is to the palate.
Maya created this dessert while working as the pastry chef at Lazy Bear, a San Francisco restaurant that grew from the cult-like following of an underground supper club and whose own chef/owner David Barzelay recently received the nod as a 2016 Food and Wine Best New Chef.
To complement the ice cream and pudding, Maya’s Black Sesame dessert features cassis jam, cassis pate de fruit, dehydrated devil’s food cake, forbidden rice pudding and a light dusting of charcoal. This creation—with its colors and flavors and textures—makes you question what you think you know about food. This is the epitome of Maya’s gift to anyone lucky enough to receive it—a delicately plated, understated, experiential dessert that decadently performs.
Simply put, it’s unexpected.
As our conversation moved beyond Maya’s dessert, we asked her a few other questions as well:
TL: What are some of the things that inspire you now as you’re evolving as a pastry chef?
ME: It comes from many different places. Sometimes I will know that there’s a flavor that will go well in my head. I don’t have any reason why. I just did a persimmon and root beer dessert with malt and chocolate. It just seemed so natural to me; it just makes sense in my head. But there can be other inspiration. Also, seeing what other people do and eating at other people’s restaurants and seeing what other chefs are capable of is always inspiring to try to help you find your own voice. You’ll see techniques or flavors that you never thought of or never considered. That’s always a huge inspiration.
It’s very easy to get stuck in your head. You have certain things you fall back on certain things you lean towards. To be taken out of your element and forced to reexamine what food means to you and the food you want to make is very important.
TL: How would you define what is happening in San Francisco now from a culinary standpoint? Are people pushing more? Are they trying to do traditional things in interesting ways?
ME: I think there are many schools of fine dining right now. There’s always the classic French fine dining. Then there’s more Spanish-inspired modernist fine dining. Then there’s Nordic fine dining, which is hyper simple and hyper local. It’s about finding the balance among the three of those in a lot of restaurants. The tech boom in San Francisco is creating an interesting environment for restaurants because there is such a demand for them. So many restaurants are opening with a really high caliber. The problem is that a lot of cooks can’t afford to live here anymore, which is really disheartening. So, you have all these badass restaurants that are super understaffed and trying to make it.
TL: If you were able to open your own place right now, what would it be like?
ME: I used to throw these pastry burlesque parties in San Francisco. That’s evolved into what, at the moment, we’re calling Dirty High Tea. I have a lot of friends in the performing arts, and burlesque has always been one of my loves. The two go hand-in-hand to me. It’s like Marie Antoinette, Rococo opulence. Dessert is a very decadent, luxurious and extravagant thing already. We’re going to do high tea service with giant platters of pastries and serve cocktails in tea pots and have performances and lounge acts and singers and girls in frilly clothes as servers. We’ll start out as a pop-up, and then in a million years maybe have a real place. But that’s like a million years away.
TL: Would you be performing as well?
ME: I used to be a dancer because my mom ran a dance company. I used to perform at the events I threw. We’ll see.