To Will Goldfarb, dessert is more than the denouement of dinner. Many people will recognise the pastry cook from his seminal and cerebral episode of Chef’s Table in 2018, which explored his consciousness around the canon of pastry cookery. Although at this point, Goldfarb was just getting started. A lot can change after a few years spent on a magical island.
First, to appreciate where Goldfarb sits in his career today, it’s important to understand where he has come from. A native New Yorker with a bright educational future in front of him, he chose to eschew law school in favour of a trip to Paris to study at Le Cordon Bleu cookery school. Directly from here, he worked with Gerard Mulot in Paris, Fabio Picchi in Florence and Tetsuya Wakuda in Sydney, all experiences he credits with providing him with an accurate and evolved world view of desserts.
He returned to New York with the air of a prodigal son, finding work easily. Although his first couple of positions ended in disappointment. It was around this point that El Bulli, the epoch-defining kitchen in Roses, Spain was winning plaudits for a new brand of modernist cuisine, picking up consecutive The World’s Best Restaurant titles between 2006 and 2010. Golfarb’s interest was piqued by the without-boundary cookery style and on two occasions applied to stage with Ferran Adria and his team.
His second application saw him invited to Europe, which subsequently changed Goldfarb’s view of pastry forever. The freedom of thought appealed to his creative side and in the immediate months following his time at El Bulli and after returning to New York, he brought with him the sense of escapism the Adria family had taught him. Working under Paul Liebrandt at Papillon, it was not unusual to find desserts served in a syringe, guests being blindfolded or handcuffed, with elaborate preparations that spoke directly to his time in Spain.
He then moved to Cru, an upmarket restaurant in Manhattan, where it appeared that the dining public and, indeed, the newspaper writers were not ready for his style of food. One of his technical and theatrically far-reaching desserts – A Day at the Beach – was served in a box that included saffron syrup, salt water spray, pastry cream soda with crispy ham, grapefruit gel, beer, all served with a tiny beach towel. The critics panned his work for being contrived and over-stylised. Goldfarb left the restaurant and reconsidered his career, almost exiting the restaurant industry for good.
After a short sabbatical an opportunity arose which would define Goldfarb’s future. He was asked to create a dessert-only restaurant, which became Room4Dessert, the brand that resides today. A successful run in New York, followed by a falling out with his financial backers, showed him that the concept had legs and that people would travel for a 10-course menu, focussed solely on sweet flavours.
And travel they do. Goldfarb phoenixed Room4Dessert on the tropical Indonesian paradise of Bali in 2014, where he has plied his trade ever since, integrating himself with local charities and undertaking study into Balinese flora and the positive impact that they can have on the body. He is an acolyte of ‘botanical modernism’, which investigates the holistic properties of plants. Goldfarb himself says “I think the need for purpose brought us to Bali. The powerful connection between people, nature and the community re-shaped what we celebrated and served.”
If life is about the journey and not the destination, then Goldfarb has racked up more metaphorical airmiles than most. In 2021, he is named The World’s Best Pastry Chef, sponsored by Cacao Barry, and it is an appropriate honour to bestowed on a cook who has experience, knowledge and perhaps most importantly, a learning of empathy from his time exploring far-flung corners of the globe and, indeed, his own soul.
Read the interview with Will Goldfarb, The World's Best Pastry Chef.
Discover more about the previous award winners