Toque of the Town

Mandarin Oriental’s pastry whiz dishes on his ‘Top Chef’ stint

November 3, 2011

Matthew Petersen, pastry chef for CityZen and Sou’wester at the Mandarin Oriental, flew under the radar at the start of the second season of “Top Chef: Just Desserts.” Midway through the season, though, he took off and ended up as one of the finalists (he lost to Chris Hanmer, owner of the School of Pastry Design in Las Vegas, but came out tops in the “fan favorite” online contest). Petersen spoke to Express last week, the day after the season finale aired.

Has the show affected your work going forward?
The [chocolate] brioche dessert that Chris did, I’ve taken that and made it my own. The judges didn’t like his version, but I’ve been serving it at CityZen. But the day-to-day routine hasn’t changed.

Is there really a personality difference between those who bake and those who cook?
The personality difference lies in organization and being anal, if you will. My mom is crazy organized — everything has its place and the house is super-clean and I love it. [Baking] is super-precise: You have to do it this way or it won’t work.

I saw one episode where at the beginning of a challenge, everyone busted out calculators before starting to do anything.
Well, that’s because all the recipes we brought with us make 10 kilos of batter or use 10 kilos of cream, and you only really need 500 grams. So you need to scale it down.

Here’s the question I’m sure you get all the time: How do you not weigh 500 pounds?
For myself, I’ve just been blessed with a great metabolism. But here’s the thing: We work 12, 15 hours a day, and sometimes during those days we kind of forget to eat. But I ride my bike to work, so that helps. And having a daughter, chasing her around

Is that her I hear in the background?
Yeah, she’s really into taking out all the pots and pans in the kitchen. Today she’s already made pumpkin pie and apple pie. She’s on her way to being a chef at 2½.

Mandarin Oriental, 1330 Maryland Ave. SW; 202-787-6140. (Smithsonian)
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Marc Silver | November 2, 2011