Chef Spotlight: Risa Boyer of VANILLAMORE in Montclair, NJ
Risa (Magid) Boyer trained at the Culinary Institute of America, graduating with a bachelor's degree in culinary management and an associate's degree in baking and pastry arts. She has interned at Park Avenue in NYC and Pink Cake Box in Denville, NJ. Risa has worked in NYC restaurants Sweet Revenge and Armani Ristorante, as well as De Novo European Pub in Montclair, NJ and Finale in Boston, MA. Most recently, she has been a pastry instructor and resident chef at Sur La Table and the owner of Pastries by Risa, a small specialty cake business.
Risa was born into a family of sweets and artists. Her Grammie was a talented cake decorator, her Grandfather's family owned bakeries in Poland for many generations, and her great-grandfather was a late-blooming artist. The tradition continues with today's generation. In the mid-1980's, Risa's parents founded a retail chocolate business in New Jersey and today they are investors in ChloeFineArts, a San Francisco based art gallery. Early in Risa's career, she studied graphic arts; her passion for art eventually led her to designing desserts.
Vanillamore is a beautiful expression of many generations of passion for the Magid family.
What was your earliest interest in cooking?
I grew up in the kitchen with my mom and sister. My earliest memories are helping my mom set up platters for any parties or holidays that she was hosting. There was always something special about making the food look as good as it tasted.
My earliest realization that I could make cooking a career was when I had a part time job in the kitchen of a restaurant in Boston while attending Northeastern University for graphic design. I was cooking on the savory side of the kitchen, but ended up choosing to study pastry because I felt like there was a better opportunity to merge my passion for art & design with food.
Who were some of your career mentors?
Both of the kitchen managers at my first kitchen job had a big impact on me and taught me a great deal about mise en place and cooking on a line. They had gone to different culinary schools and had very different management styles, both of which have influenced my management style. I was also able to hear about their culinary school experiences which helped me make the decision about what school to attend.
I have also been very impacted by local Montclair restaurateur Demetri Malki. I met Demetri when I was 12 years old. My parents frequented his restaurant Demetri's while I was attending art classes at the Montclair Art Museum. During my transition from art school to culinary school, I interned with his pastry chef at Table 8. There, I learned more about how a busy restaurant kitchen functions. I learned how to make gelatos and how to plate desserts during service. Many years later Demetri took me on as his opening pastry chef at De Novo in Upper Montclair. There, I was able to create the dessert menu and spin gelatos in that very same gelato machine!
What culinary styles have influenced your career?
At the end of my time at CIA I was able to travel to Spain on a Food, Wine and Agriculture trip. Spending 3 weeks in Spain, eating tapas, drinking wine and learning about local delicacies left a big impression on me. One flavor combination stuck with me and is now on the menu at Vanillamore - olive oil and dark chocolate!
On my honeymoon, my husband and I traveled to France. During our time there, we enjoyed charcuterie & wine in the afternoon and long relaxed dinners late in the evening.
Both of these travel experiences are what can be missing at many local restaurants. I wanted to create a place where flavors and textures are at the forefront of the menu with a relaxing atmosphere, great service and an immersive dining experience.
What do you consider the most distinguishing features of your work as a chef? You can mention how your personal culinary approach is unique or a few signature dishes.
My pastry approach is to always think about how flavors and textures work together. Many of the desserts at Vanillamore have unexpected flavor combinations that are meant to surprise and delight the palate. One example of this is using herbs in some of our pastry recipes - i.e., strawberries with thyme, grapefruit with mint. Also, one of the menu items that we've quickly become known for is our signature s'mores dessert. A twist on a classic, we have created open-faced, bite sized s'mores that are paired with a flight of caramel sauces meant to be poured over the toasted marshmallows. We serve this with a spicy hot chocolate made with cinnamon, chili powder and cayenne. The hot chocolate ties together the traditional chocolate part of a s'more while also balancing the sweetness of the marshmallow and caramel with the spicy, richness of the hot chocolate.
What is your favorite meal or meals?
Dessert, of course! But, I rarely sit down and eat a full dessert myself. I have a sweet tooth and have a penchant for snacking, and I'm often tasting components of our desserts throughout the day. Because of this, I like to have a balanced breakfast & end up craving protein - a good roast chicken, or red meat - by the end of the day for dinner. I balance out my diet by eating lots of fruit and vegetables.
Tell me a little bit about your restaurant for our readers.
Vanillamore puts sweets at the center of the menu, with healthy, seasonal savory offerings to complement our lunch, dinner & weekend brunch menus. We are a restaurant where foodies, families, and friends can experience exceptional service, an open kitchen, and a virtual art gallery in an immersive, approachable way.
Vanillamore Dessert Kitchen is located at 349 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair NJ 07042. Hours: Monday - Closed, Tuesday - Thursday 11am - 11pm, Friday - Saturday 11am - midnight, and Sunday 11am - 10pm. For more information, call them at 973.707.5373, contact at email@example.com and visit their web site https://www.vanillamore.com/. Follow Vanillamore on Facebook and Instagram.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Risa Boyer