The German-born, Swiss-trained Mr. Schorner became an instructor after working for decades at some of the world’s most elegant restaurants, including the Savoy Hotel in London. He and his wife also operated the popular Patisserie-Cafe Didier in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood for a decade beginning in the late 1980s.
Mr. Schorner’s artistic creations in the glittering temples of haute cuisine put him in demand among the high-society set nursing a sweet tooth.
He made cakes for former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy at La Côte Basque in Manhattan and cookies for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s 1974 wedding. First lady Nancy Reagan commissioned him to craft desserts in the shape of cellos, their strings fashioned from spun sugar, in honor of the Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich.
In 1980, New York Times restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton heralded Mr. Schorner, then at Le Cirque, as “the city’s most inspired pastry chef.” He became particularly known for his masterful reincarnation of creme brulee, a ramekin of custard topped with a crust of charred sugar that shatters at the tap of a spoon.
The brulee’s popularity, having briefly spiked when Kennedy’s recipe became public in 1961, had long since sunk into culinary oblivion. Mr. Schorner’s revival seemed to spawn a craze that devolved into torch-blown, passion-fruit excess at every pedestrian eatery and in grocery store freezer aisles.
But Mr. Schorner played a key role in developing the now-inescapable concoction, said Ray Mulvey, a former student and author of a forthcoming biography of Mr. Schorner.
Mr. Schorner told Mulvey that Maccioni returned from a trip to Spain with an idea to adapt a crema catalana — an eggy dessert with a crisp top — for the restaurant’s menu. Mr. Schorner tinkered with the recipe, making it less sweet and the serving dish shallower, he said.
Maccioni acknowledged in his memoir that Mr. Schorner worked on the recipe, according to “The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.” But Maccioni did not give him anything close to double-billing — and claimed credit for reviving the custard “and making it the most famous and by far the most popular dessert in restaurants from Paris to Peoria.”
Mr. Schorner, known for his formality and genteel ways, never complained. “He was waiting for Sirio to laud him — but he didn’t,” Mulvey said in an interview. “Of course he never talked about it, but it hurt him.”
In a career spent among demanding bosses and discerning dinners, Mr. Schorner professed to care most about his legacy as a teacher, first as chairman of the pastry arts department at the French Culinary Institute in New York City and then for 17 years at the Culinary Institute of America.
“If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain,” he was quoted as saying in 2008 upon his induction into Pastry Art & Design magazine’s hall of fame. “If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. But if you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people. I teach as if I am the farmer who is planting the seed of prosperity, and I am praying it will grow successful people.”
One pupil was Rose Levy Beranbaum, a cookbook author who is widely considered one of the country’s foremost baking authorities. Beranbaum recalled preparing recipes for her indispensable 1998 volume “The Pie and Pastry Bible” and figuring she would have to travel to Denmark for her section on Danish pastries.
The gourmet cook and TV personality Julia Child instead advised her, “Oh, just take a class with Dieter!”
She sought out Mr. Schorner at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center). But as he prepared a dessert, Beranbaum was surprised to learn that Mr. Schorner didn’t rely on a recipe. “His hands knew what to do,” she said of the chef. “He had the most loving, most confident hands on a pastry chef I’ve ever seen.”
Dieter Georg Schorner was born in Sulzbach-Rosenberg, a small town in Bavaria, on June 19, 1937. He was 4 when his father was killed fighting in Russia during World War II.
Starting at roughly 9, Mr. Schorner took odd jobs to help support his family — and found his future profession while working at a pretzel bakery.
A small inheritance from his maternal grandmother allowed him to study candy and confection-making at a renowned school in Basel, Switzerland. He then traversed the globe as the pastry chef on a Swedish cruise ship. To decide between competing offers from two of the world’s top restaurants — the Plaza Athénée in Paris and the Savoy in London — Mr. Schorner flipped a coin, he told Mulvey, and wound up in England.
He worked at upscale New York establishments including Le Chantilly, L’Etoile and Tavern on the Green. In 1986, when Tavern’s flamboyant owner Warner LeRoy opened the opulent Potomac restaurant in Washington, he brought Mr. Schorner with him.
The extravagantly chandeliered Potomac operated for only a year, but it made a splashy mark on Washington’s restaurant scene. Washington Post restaurant critic Phyllis C. Richman called it the city’s “biggest, glitziest and most expensive restaurant ever.” When it shuttered in 1987, she decried its “watery baby shrimp” and overpriced entrees, but she lamented the loss of Mr. Schorner’s sweets.
“It took time for the pastry kitchen to hit its stride, but once it did he produced a pecan pie that could take over the South, and extraordinary chocolate-filled macaroons afloat in vanilla custard sauce,” Richman wrote.
After Potomac closed, Mr. Schorner was pastry chef at the Willard Intercontinental hotel in Washington, before opening Patisserie-Cafe Didier in Georgetown in 1988, running the operation with his second wife, the former Sylvia Careaga, who survives along with two brothers and a sister. (An early marriage had ended in divorce.)
The snug cafe, located on the quaint one-way Grace Street, was modeled after charming European shops, with roses topping the few tables and a wall display filled with tortes, croissants, cream-filled Paris-Brests, swan-shaped cream puffs, and trays of delicate cookies.
Mulvey recalled the VIP clientele that flocked to the sweets. “There would be Secret Service around, and these limos would pull up,” he said.
Even while working at the French Culinary Institute, Mr. Schorner commuted to Washington every Friday to roll dough for croissants at his Georgetown cafe. In a 1997 interview with The Post about the art of croissant-making, he expressed disgust at what Americans had grown to accept as passable pastry.
The additives that most commercial baking companies used to prolong the product’s shelf life and allow it to withstand freezing ruined the delicacy, in his estimation. “They call this a butter croissant?!” he said. “They have no flavor, and you can squeeze out the grease. And so big! This is not good living.”
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