James Distefano understood he wanted to be a chef being a teenager. He grew up in New Jersey with a family that was always cooking on weekends.
He studied in Hudson County Community College Culinary Arts Program, and after that, he had several jobs at local New Jersey restaurants. His life changed when his friend asked him to work at Park Avenue Café in New York.
At this place, Distefano assisted great Richard Leach and was eventually introduced to Chef David Burke. The Chef was impressed by Distefano’s work, and in 2003 asked him to work as the executive pastry chef at David Burke & Donatella. Working there, Distefano exhibited a remarkable ability to conceptualize and execute desserts that have since become signature items on the David Burke menu
In 2008 he was offered a place of executive pastry chef at Rouge Tomate, a place of a concept that was born in Belgium, this concept combines the sophistication of haute cuisine with a progressive dietary philosophy. And although he was not allowed to use much sugar and butter (which are the key ingredients to a pastry chefs), he managed to create delicious and healthy desserts that showcase a skillful combination of textures, flavors, and sweet-savory balance with an emphasis on purity of flavors.
As an example, here is his recipe of Gluten-Free Strawberry-Almond Frangipane, for those who care about their health but just can’t live without desserts.
Gluten-Free Strawberry-Almond Frangipane
- 176 g granulated sugar
- 6 g freeze-dried strawberries
- 200 g almond paste
- 172 g unsalted butter
- Zest of ½ orange
- Zest of ½ lemon
- 4 eggs
- 87 g almond flour
- 3.7 g xanthan gum
- 0.5 g Madagascar vanilla powder
- 0.5 g ground cinnamon
- 1.6 g fine sea salt
- 194 g dried strawberries, cut into small pieces
- In an electric blender; mix the freeze-dried strawberry with the sugar and process until smooth.
- Mix the almond paste and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and begin to process until both ingredients are completely combined. Add the butter and continue to cream the mixture until a batter is smooth. Mix the orange zest and the lemon zest with the eggs. Slowly add this substance to the almond paste base.
- Mix the almond flour, xanthan gum, vanilla powder, cinnamon, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients and the dried strawberries to the cake base and continue to mix until all ingredients will consist homogeneous mass. Store cake batter in an airtight container until you are ready to use it or place batter into individual molds (1 ¾” ring molds lightly sprayed with non-stick spray), then bake at 300°F for 16-18 minutes.
- Cut fresh strawberries, mix it with vanilla syrup.
- To serve, gently place fresh strawberries on top the cake, and put a few pieces of strawberry on the cake.