Ever had vinegar pie? If the buttery, custardy dessert—tinged with vanilla and cane vinegar and topped with salty-sweet caramel brittle—sounds as must-try to you as it does to us and the legions of fans who've fallen for it, then you'll want to know about Victoria Dearmond. She's the young pastry chef who is winning raves for her vinegar pie—and other deceptively simple but unforgettable desserts like fried sweet potato pie with mallow fluff; grapefruit custard with candied grapefruit; and an extra-decadent chocolate, peanut butter and caramel pie—at Underbelly, the groundbreaking restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd that sits at the white-hot center of Houston's dynamic restaurant scene.
Victoria Dearmond photo credit: Julie Soefer.
At Underbelly, Shepherd's ingenious way of weaving the city's regional and global influences—from the South to Asia—into must-eat dishes, complemented by Dearmond's sophisticated comfort-food desserts, are not just elevating the culinary profile of America's fourth-largest city but also causing ripples well beyond Texas's borders, from celeb chefs like David Chang to the New York Times.
Vinegar pie photo credit: Julie Soefer.
Dearmond, one of the youngest rising-star pastry chefs in the country, has been a member of the Underbelly team since the restaurant opened in March 2012. “It’s interesting to see someone so young that’s grown up so fast. She’s 25, but it seems like she’s been in the industry forever," Shepherd tells The Feast. The Lake Jackson, Texas-born Dearmond, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, sat down with The Feast to talk about where she gets her pastry ideas, and where she sees the future of desserts heading.
On the inspiration behind vinegar pie:
"At Underbelly we use only local ingredients. That can rule out typical desserts like chocolate and raspberries. But the limitation of our location can be fun. The vinegar pie came from a cookbook Chris [Shepherd] found at a garage sale, called Hillbilly Cookin' [written in 1968]. We went through a lot of trials making this dessert. It is a custard pie made with cane-based vinegar and apple cider, plus eggs, butter, lemon juice and vanilla. The caramel brittle [with Galveston sea salt] on top was inspired by salt-and-vinegar potato chips. I personally prefer savory foods over sweets. And I’m a big fan of salt and pepper. I really like to use them in my desserts."
Where pastry trends are headed now:
"Desserts are getting simpler. For a while it was a 50-touch plate with smoke and gel, etc. I’ve noticed things starting to simplify. More does not always mean more." Dearmond prefers what she calls "just good, simple desserts. Homey and comforting. Something your grandma made for you when you were growing up."
Underbelly's chocolate peanut butter pie with creamy caramel.
What desserts she'll be making next:
"Fall means cinnamon to me, which is my favorite thing. Citrus and beets are in season, so you’ll see those for sure. We’ll have a Meyer lemon upside down cake (sliced caramelized Meyer lemons and pound cake baked in cast iron pan, flipped over, then dressed with lemons and bay leaf-white chocolate cream on top); savory beet panna cotta with dill creme fraiche and pickled mustard seeds, and a seasonal fried pie. For fall, it will be stuffed with carrot cake, cream cheese icing, and candied pecans, and finished with a lemon glaze."
And coming up this winter: "When One Fifth (Shepherd’s newest concept, a Houston restaurant that will change concepts annually) opens in January 2017, I will run the pastry program there as well. I’ll get to use ingredients other than local. I’m already thinking of ways to use cashews and almonds."
Fried pie photo credit: Julie Soefer
Other pastry chefs' desserts that inspire her:
"I went to North Carolina this summer and got to work with AC Restaurants executive pastry chef Andrew Ullom. He and I are similar in that we tend to make more homey, comfort desserts. He makes a zucchini squash chess pie that's really good, and his green tomato pie is delicious."
What she bakes when she's off the clock:
"Cookies. I love cookies. I make a very large amount including chocolate chip, lemon vegan, and coconut caramel."
Her desert-island dessert:
"Cookie dough. Everyone likes cookie dough. And secretly eats it."
This week on The Feast, we’re celebrating all the inspiring, mind-blowing, over-the-top—and most of all, delicious—things that are catching our attention in the food and drink world. Stay tuned for must-watch videos, features on the chefs and innovators we love, tips on the most incredible Instagram accounts you should be following, and polls that let you vote on your favorites.
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