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Photos: The Beautiful New Desserts Coming Out Of Blackbird

By Anthony Todd in Food on Sep 22, 2015 8:00PM

Pre-dessert - polenta citrus crumble, with corn ice cream, sour milk jam, almond brittle, hibiscus compressed apple and fresh thyme. Photo by Kailley Lindman.

When Dana Cree (who had been nominated for two Beard awards) announced in July that she was leaving her position as the pastry chef at blackbird, we knew that it would take someone spectacular to replace her. Looks like blackbird, the West Loop's flagship restaurant of One Off Hospitality, has found that special someone.

Nicole Guini has been at the restaurant just about one month now, and she's already introduced a few of her new dishes on the menu. Guini went to pastry school in Argentina (she grew up in Chicago, but her family is Argentinian) and did stints at Gerhard's European Bakery, Flirty Cupcakes and Spiaggia before she landed at blackbird.

She's had some great experiences that positioned her for this new gig.

First, Guini is no stranger to long hours, a necessary part of pastry stardom.

"When I started working at Flirty, we had one food truck and the late night shift at Kitchen Chicago," Guini says. "I would go in at 4 p.m. and we would bake cupcakes until early morning." She's also able to perform under pressure. During a stage at the Four Seasons, a supervisor gave her a recipe for creme anglaise and the run of the kitchen and told her to invent and create a full plated dessert in two hours.

At Spiaggia, she was in charge of the pastry program for Spiaggia and Cafe Spiaggia, and helped guide that restaurant through it's renovation and reconcepting. After she left, she took some time off to get in touch with her craft.

"I left Spiaggia at the end of May, and decided to focus on educating myself and reading," she says. "I went through all of my cookbooks, read all my notes from pastry school, and touched base with the basics again. I wanted to find my own pastry voice."

Chocolate crumble with roasted and raw pickled beets, candied orange, fennel ice cream, tarragon salt, chocolate lattice and marigolds. Photo by Kailley Lindman.

She's definitely found something. Her desserts are complicated and use a lot of savory and vegetable elements, like corn, beets and carrots. The first dish she created for blackbird, a pre-dessert, combined polenta and citrus with corn ice cream, sour milk jam, almond brittle, apple and fresh thyme.

Graham cracker, lavender semifreddo, roasted pear sorbet, pear butter, bergamot pickled pear, pear compote, lemon olive oil powder and lemon meringue shards. Photo by Kailley Lindman.

The desserts at blackbird have to use seasonal ingredients, but they also have to fit the season. Guini developed a spiced carrot dessert for her first menu, but "it was 90 degrees when we ate the dessert, and the chefs thought the dessert felt very fall." Instead, she's serving a unique combination of chocolate and beets, roasted and pickled, along with candied orange, fennel ice cream, tarragon salt, chocolate lattice and marigolds.

"I like to insert a lot of savory into my desserts; I use a lot of herbs and spices in my desserts," Guini explains. "Some season with salt, i like to season with herbs."

Corn Panna Cotta paired with masa cake, corn powder, peach salad, spiced kataifi, peach sorbet and fresh basil. Photo by Kailley Lindman.

Going forward, look for an expanded chocolate program, as well as fall flavors and hot desserts for winter."Things that you want to cozy up to," Guini says.

But not everything is fancy food for this high-end pastry chef. While she might play with tarragon salt and fennel ice cream in her kitchen, she says, "Don't get me wrong, I will sit and eat an entire bag of sour patch kids."