At 22 years old, pastry chef Farzam Fallah is already making a name for himself thanks to the weird and wonderful desserts he creates at Richmond Station, in Toronto. I met with him recently on his day off to watch him cook Movie Snacks–a trio of Coca-Cola cake, popcorn ice cream and Twizzlers sauce–and to talk sweet stuff.
What are your favourite ingredients to work with?
I really like liquor. I like tea. I like tobacco. Also, hay! I infuse it into ice cream, just as you would dry herbs. We get it from a friend of ours who used to work here, but now she works on a farm. They have horses there so they grow cloverleaf and alfalfa.
The tobacco, I get from a little shop just round the corner called Casablanca. The first time I went in I had to explain to them: “I’m looking for this kind of tobacco, but I’m not actually smoking it.” Now they know me as the weird pastry chef.
How do you create a new dessert?
Of course if you put sugar and brown butter and fruit on a plate, it’s going to taste really good, but for me it has a lot to do with entertainment too. I think a desert needs to tell a bit of a story.
I’ve also based a lot of desserts on my mother and my grandmother’s traditional Persian cuisine. Mom uses dried lemons, sumac, fermented pickles… stuff you don’t see often in American food: saffron, turmeric, chickpea flour. Rosewater is very big. I like creating a balance with French technique and Persian flavours and making a dish that’s American-friendly.
What was behind your movie snacks dish?
I love the idea of taking trashy flavours and making them classy. We did it a while back with Cracker Jack as well, using popcorn, nuts and caramel.
And two menus ago we did a schnozberry sherbet. It was based on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. There were really random flavours on a plate; some bites were weird and some were really delicious. During that experience of eating it, you took on that story of Willy Wonka—you just didn’t know what was coming next. Movie Snacks is based on the joy of going to the movie theatre and having candy and popcorn.
Any experiments that have not made it past the lab stage?
I was trying to recreate one of El Bulli’s desserts, called Earth. It’s really just a plate of brown powder and different textures of chocolate, but it all looks like dirt. I was working on a Canadian version of that, but it was to be called Snow.
I was trying to create a range of flavours and textures, but all white—like the winter Earth almost. It was a mixture of cake crumbles and tapioca maltodextrine and some other stuff, just way too dry. Carl [Heinrich—chef co-owner of Richmond Station] was like “No, this is horrible, we can’t serve that!” I understood why. But I may try reworking it again one day.
Do you collaborate much at Richmond Station?
A lot of times I’ll walk around and yell out a few different flavours and be like “What comes next?”
“Chocolate, scotch, vanilla… What’s next? Salt, hazelnuts…”
I’ll do that a lot with the people around me. Ryan [Donovan—the other chef co-owner at Richmond Station] is a great person for collaborations. He’ll always tell me some random story about his childhood, how his dad used to eat some ice cream called spumoni with shards of hard candy in it.
And it’s always fun talking to Carl and hearing about Sooke Harbour House and Vancouver Island, where he’s from. Two weeks ago his mom sent a really nice care package from her garden, with fresh bay leaves, geraniums, lemon verbena and all these things you don’t really see growing here. I’m using some of her stuff on my menu now.
I like talking to people and learning about their backgrounds: what foods they ate, what ingredients they use on a daily basis that we don’t use as often in the restaurant.
Fruit or chocolate?
A lot of my desserts are fruit based; I try to keep away from chocolate. I always like fresh fragrant ingredients, maybe because I was born and raised in Iran and my grandmother had apricots growing in her back garden. She had a cherry tree that she planted when I was born too. And I love candy–I especially love the history behind it. I get really excited about making a trip to the 7-Eleven.