It seems almost impossible that Liz Kornheiser has been working in restaurants for a dozen years. But she’s got those tell-tale kitchen scars on her forearms to prove it. The 28-year-old has a local-girl-makes-good story and has spent the past two months putting her own stamp on the dessert menu at Hook in Georgetown, whose previous pastry chef was Heather Chittum (now Heather Roth).
We spent a little time together last week, as she showed off her Seasonal Cloud Cake and her new kitchen. Here are excerpts of the interview:
Let’s just get it out of the way: Your dad’s Tony Kornheiser, longtime writer at The Washington Post, current ESPN radio host and one popular guy. What does that celebrity do for you?
You know, when I was younger I had an aversion to the celebrity thing. I don’t have a problem with it now, as long as I can put good food out.
How did you get started? Why pastry?
Well, I started baking chocolate chip cookies when I was 13 . . . . Our family were kind of regulars at Clydes’ in Chevy Chase. I was 16 and looking for a summer job. The manager said there was an opening in the kitchen, plating desserts.
While I was in college, I worked the front of the house at Old Ebbitt Grill and at Clyde’s of Gallery Place , and after I graduated [with a degree in business administration from the George Washington University] I worked as a pastry chef at the Blue Moon in Rehoboth Beach — long enough to realize this was what I wanted to do. So I went through L’Academie de Cuisine’s professional program. I did an externship at 1789 with chef Travis Olson, who’s great to work with. Then it was back to the Blue Moon.
And now this! I’m pinching myself.
Do you have a pastry ‘idol’?
Michel Richard. He came to L’Academie when I was there, and I almost fell off my stool.
You’ve logged enough kitchen time to have learned some big truths about yourself. Care to share?
You have to be tenacious and never give up.
No matter how bad things might get, the night will end and you will get there.
I have realized how much I love to cook.
Food’s supposed to be fun, and make people happy. That’s my goal.
I can push myself harder than I thought I could. You know, I think I get that from my dad, who has a fantastic work ethic.
You are in a job that calls for long hours.
Yep. Four days a week I go14 hours. The other three days are like 10-hour days. So that’s no days off, for now. But it’s okay.
Your Cloud Cake is light and delicious. Is it your signature dessert?
I’m not sure I have one of those yet. I don’t stick to one way of doing things. For me, it’s more about getting the flavor profile right, or using an ingredient I’m passionate about.
I do like working with fruit. The Cloud Cake is basically my version of a souffled cheesecake — like one that was served at 1789 — but mine’s not baked and uses no eggs. It’s citrus now, but we’re about to switch over to rhubarb. I can do it gluten-free with a pine-nut crust.
I also can’t wait to do sweet corn ice cream, and I’ve been getting into making ricotta.
Has your dad tasted any of it yet?
No! He’s been asking, though: ‘Lizzie, when can I come in?’
He doesn’t like a lot of sweets, really. In fact, my favorite food to cook at home is savory: pasta or a good roast chicken. I’ll let my folks come soon — maybe for Father’s Day.