You may have been following the career of pastry chef Ruben Toraño without even knowing it. Toraño quietly began his tenure as executive pastry chef at the Adolphus late last month, overseeing The French Room, City Hall Bistro, and Otto’s Coffee and Fine Foods.
He has worked with Nobu, The Hilton Anatole, Hotel ZaZa, and most recently Headington Companies, developing pastries for Commissary. A graduate of Johnson & Wales, he started his career at 17. “I’ve grown up creating pastries my entire life. First, learning from my dad who was a pastry chef for over 30 years,” Toraño says in a press release.
I still remember the ice cream sandwiches he was making several years ago at CBD Provisions, decadent wheels filled with a righteously buttery caramel and candied pecan ice cream. The first time I ordered one at the end of a fine meal, it stopped me in my tracks: cheeky, well-executed, sultry.
He was the one making the extraordinary pop tarts that you remember at Weekend coffee. And more recently the financiers and gorgeous eclairs at Commissary, where he also demonstrated how to showcase the wonders of puff pastry or master a simple tart filled with lemon curd.
He’s shown exactly the kind of range that works well in a place that requires catering to Otto’s clientele, but also the dessert menu at The French Room, where a dessert cart until recently was a wonderland of macarons and marshmallows and tiny confectionery under glass domes.
After 12 years with Headington, having transitioned into a role that was one of leadership and vision behind the scenes, Toraño says he was ready for a change. “I’ve been itching to get back into the kitchen and do my own [thing] and sort of have the kitchen to myself,” he says over the phone. “The Adolphus [offer came], and I was very excited. I’d like it to be my own—a perfect occasion for me to focus more on who I truly am.”
What he envisions: “To update things to be more what the trends are nationally, internationally.”
The stamp he would put on his creations harkens to his heritage. “I’d like to be a little more colorful. I do have a tropical background: my family’s Puerto Rican, and we’re all about fruits and flowers and colors. And if you do it right, it can be an awesome complement to [a meal].” He imagines tapping into the possibilities of fruit, even in winter. (In fact, one of his sources of inspiration is acclaimed Puerto-Rico-born American pastry chef Antonio Bashour, whose colorful, avant-garde works are stunning.)
In the French Room, he foresees something “more modern, more garnishes on the plate, more detailed. So when you do look at the plate, you’re looking at a story or a composition itself.”
For Otto’s, the casual, European-inspired coffee shop, he’ll be able to introduce dairy free options and novel grains, perhaps partnering with local Barton Springs Mill for flours that will lend their own aromas to pastries. A rice-flour cake or a chocolate chip rye cookie “would be awesome to showcase occasionally, because we have the need to be approachable as well,” he says. But imagine the allure of a “morsel made with rye that’s cultivated and milled in central Texas.”
It remains to be seen how precisely he will make his mark. But I imagine he will be going in the direction of figures nationally and internationally who are experimenting with the textures and possibilities of alternative grains. A buckwheat-miso shortbread? A simple strawberry tart with perfectly caramelized pistachios? Yes, please.
Look for new pastries to debut at Otto’s within the next two to three weeks. The French Room menu will take longer to revamp.