Take Five with Pastry Chef Rodney Cerdan of the Village Pub, On His Candy-Filled Childhood
Rodney Cerdan is a very dangerous man.
If left to his own devices, he will ply you with chocolate honey mousse cake, peanut butter brownie bars with fluffs of toasted marshmallow, chewy almond cookies and bags of homemade sticky caramels to no surrender.
He canâ€™t help himself. As executive pastry chef of the Village Pub in Woodside, Cerdan, 33, has been baking since he was 7, when heâ€™d commandeer his Momâ€™s toaster oven before taking on the full-size one.
After stints at Royâ€™s Restaurant in San Francisco, Delessioâ€™s Market in Bakery in San Francisco, and Bi-Rite Creamery and Bakeshop in San Francisco, Cerdan took over the head pastry job at the Village Pub in October 2010.
Recently, I had a chance to try a sampling of his newest desserts (about $10 each) on the house that reference homey favorites, but have been reborn with contemporary flair. They included a fluffy, airy chocolate honey mousse cake with spicy ginger ice cream; and a Meyer lemon pudding cake with an ethereal texture made all the more luxurious with dollops of lush white chocolate.
Cerdan, who is of Spanish-Basque and El Salvadoran heritages, joined me at the table to chat about his failed attempt at an acting career, what it was like to grow up with a mom who worked at Seeâ€™s Candies, and what his all-time favorite dessert is.
Q: Your Mom wrapped candies at Seeâ€™s. That must be every kidâ€™s fantasy, right?
A: She used to bring home 10-pound boxes. The fruit-filled chocolates were always my favorite. I used to take a knife to the bottom of each candy until I found the ones that I was looking for.
I got pretty good at identifying them just by sight. But itâ€™s been awhile. Iâ€™m not sure I could do it now. Iâ€™d have to brush up on it.
Q: When you were 7 years old, you wanted an Easy-Bake oven?
A: Yes, but I couldnâ€™t have one. But I found that the toaster oven was better. There was none of that pushing a tiny pan under a light bulb.
I would grab a box of Bisquick and make all the recipes. Then, Iâ€™d make my own coffee cakes and pigs in a blanket. I made my own pasta at 9.
Iâ€™d watch all the PBS cooking shows, especially Julia Child and ‘Yan Can Cook.â€™
Q: So was this how your love for baking started?
A: My Mom would come home smelling of chocolate and vanilla. That pretty much did it. (laughs)
Iâ€™m never sick of sweets. Ever. If I start the day with a cookie, I just wonâ€™t be able to stop all day. I also have to order dessert when I go out. You canâ€™t eat a meal without dessert.
On a bad day, my dinner might be ice cream with a glass of wine. Or a slice of pie. Sugar is great!
Q: But your first career was acting?
A: Yes, I gave six years of my life to that. I did auditions for theater here, then moved to Los Angeles. The rejections were really hard. I still have friends who are acting. One friend from grade school has been on â€˜CSIâ€™ and â€˜Law & Order.â€™ Sometimes I wish I had stuck with it. But itâ€™s definitely hard.
Q: Youâ€™ve worked at bakeries and at restaurants. Which is more challenging?
A: Restaurants are very challenging because you have to scale things down, while with bakeries, you need to make things that travel well and can hold up all day in a case.
The volume is so different, too. Here, they might tell me they need 10 of one dessert, and I think, â€˜Thatâ€™s it???â€™
There are quarter sheet pans here that Iâ€™d never seen before. I thought they were some kind of novelty.
Q: What does working in a restaurant allow you to do more of?
A: Exploring different ingredients. I can spotlight certain unusual things like pink peppercorns or olive oil in ice cream. I get to play a little more.
Q: How would you describe your style of desserts?
A: Clean, simple, refined, with not a lot of fuss. I draw inspiration from things I did when I was little or from an old Betty Crocker cookbook I grew up with.
Q: Whatâ€™s your favorite ingredient to work with?
A: Seasonal fruit such as strawberries or raspberries.
Q: Any ingredient that you hate?
A: I have yet to find one. Maybe eggplant. (laughs) But youâ€™d never use that in a dessert.
Q: If you could have only one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A: Apricot-blueberry pie. Itâ€™s my favorite pie that I make. I love the tartness and sweetness together. Throw a crust on top, and itâ€™s perfect. And of course, ice cream to go with it. People think Iâ€™m crazy, but I actually like chocolate ice cream with pie. Chocolate ice cream goes with everything.
Q: Are your friends all 10 pounds heavier because of you?
A: They say they are, but I take no responsibility for it. (laughs)
Iâ€™m dangerous. If I can put a cookie in your mouth, I will. I always have plates of cookies out at home. Last week, it was plates of pound cake because I had all these Meyer lemons.
Q: At family gatherings, are you the one who always brings the dessert?
A: I am. My Mom never expects me to, but I always show up with pies on Thanksgiving or cookies and candy for Christmas. I make a cake for everyoneâ€™s birthday. I know what they all like. My Mom loves tiramisu. My sister loves fruit, so Iâ€™ll usually make her a tart. And my Dad likes chocolate cake.
Q: Your birthday is at the end of the month. So who makes your birthday cake?
A: My sister usually gets me a cake. But Iâ€™ll also make a pie for myself. Why not? Thatâ€™s how I relax. I love to bake at home.
I am definitely a pie guy. Iâ€™ll take a slice any day over cake. But Iâ€™ll take cake with it, too. I donâ€™t discriminate.