Introducing Gray Nance of Central Kitchen

central kitchen is honored to have some very creative and aspiring cooks in our kitchen and we love giving our readers a sneak peek into the kitchen. This week we met with cook, Gray Nance, who has passion for the sweeter side of the kitchen.

What are you making right now? 
I’m making chocolate custards and brown butter Madeleines for the chocolate dessert.

How often do you create a new dessert?

Essentially whenever I have an idea or want to try something new; a new ingredient, flavor or technique.

How does that process work?

I usually start with the flavor or technique I think is interesting, play around with that and then see what it needs to complement it. I always like to have the other cooks taste everything and give me their input.

For example, the kiwi…

I started with the white chocolate and tasted it a couple different ways and decided with Chef Tom and Chef Ryan that it needed something bright and acidic so we thought about what was in season and kiwi came to mind, so it worked out really nicely.

Are you doing research?

Yeah, I read a lot, look at what other pastry chefs are doing in the city and around the world and see what they find exciting. A lot of people in Scandinavia are doing some really cool stuff.  Gotta get inspired, ya know?

Do you tailor the desserts to whatever produce the restaurant receives or do you request certain items?

Yes, as far as produce goes, it really depends on what’s in season. That is the whole idea behind central kitchen. It’s a little less about seasonality for me because there is sugar and chocolate involved but when it comes to fruits and vegetables, yes. In fact, you can find some natural sweetness in some vegetables, which makes it exciting to try something different with a vegetable- something someone wasn’t expecting.

Do you have freedom with the dessert menu?

Yeah, for the most part. In the end, I taste it, Ryan tastes it and Tom tastes it. We decide together what needs to be changed, added, and go forward from there. But for the most part, the techniques and recipe development come from me. It’s really cool having that creative freedom.

The back of the house has a meeting every night after service, right?

Yeah, we always sit down at the end of the night and brainstorm for the next day’s menu and bounce ideas off of each other. I figure out what Mise en Place I need so when I come in the next morning, I already know what to prepare. Pastry has always been about preparation, organization and Mise en Place.

When did you realize you wanted to work in pastry?

Well, I never actually worked pastry until I moved to San Francisco. I grew up in Colorado, moved to New York for culinary school and then moved here to San Francisco. When I was working in New York I was always working savory. I left and went to Europe for a little while to visit my sister. Then I came out here for a job. That’s when I started working pastry. I have been figuring it out as I go. Pastry works really well for me though because I think more in that way-it’s more detail oriented and focused. I like both but I really like working pastry. I’ve always had a wicked sweet tooth but just happened to get into it by chance.

You work at Craftsman and Wolves too, right?

Yeah, I go to Craftsman and Wolves on Tuesday and learn all I can there.

How’d you get into that?

My good friend and roommate used to work there so I met their sous chef through her. I contacted her because I wanted to learn more and we set it up so I just go in once a week and hang out with those guys.

Do you make the cookies and scones for Salumeria?


Restaurants you want to try because of pastry?

Saison-Shawn Gawle

Commis-Joshua Meiseman

Meadowood-Matt Tinder

What’s your favorite sweet treat?

I love ice cream. I like Three Twins, mint confetti. I eat the s*it out of that. I went to the Three Twins store the other day for the first time-ohhh my god, I didn’t even know it was around.

Presentation seems very important to you…

It’s hugely important for me. I am really particular about the way I plate things. I like them to be simple and elegant and I like to be able to see the different components.

What kind of chocolate do you use?

Valrhona Chocolate- it’s really, really nice. They have different fat contents and sugars, so you can play with a lot of different stuff that way. I like Valrhona a lot.

How many desserts are on the menu?

Three à la carte dishes and three tasting menu desserts/mignardises.

Do you make all of your own ice cream here?

Yeah. Love a good ice cream.

Favorite bakeries in the city:

Neighbor Bakehouse-they sell their pastries at various shops around the city.

Craftsman and Wolves.

I’ve been meaning to go to b Patisserie.

What’s your favorite dessert on the menu right now?

I like the white chocolate kiwi dessert and i’m pretty stoked about the sorbet course on the tasting menu-its really simple. I like tasting menus.

Anything new in the works:

I’m trying to play around with fennel and do something that’s surprising.

Most memorable moment in pastry:

It was cool when Timothy Hollingsworth came in just for dessert. He used to be the Chef de Cuisine at French laundry.

What do you like to listen to when you work?

It depends on my mood. I listen to a whole lot of different genres while I’m here.

I’m listening to this (James Blake) because it’s my Monday and I just want to stay calm.

Ideal day off:

I spend my days off catching up on normal people stuff like laundry, ha ha, things like that. I usually try to go out to eat and try something new each week and if I have time I like to go sit in the park and be outside.

No, but I mean ideal day off?

Well, I really want to go to Tahoe and Marin; I have never been to either place.

What does the future hold?

I would love to work in Norway at Maaemo. I want to stage and spend a few months there.

Testing: Salt & coffee baked roots.

Testing: Salt & coffee baked roots.

Testing: Fennel oil cake.

Testing: Fennel oil cake.

Prep: Making caramel leathers

Prep: Making caramel leathers

Confit quince with caramel, ginger & buttermilk.

Confit quince with caramel, ginger & buttermilk.

Prep: Making kiwi curd.

Prep: Making kiwi curd.

White chocolate. kiwi. nasturtium.

White chocolate. kiwi. nasturtium.

Thank you Gray for making me every dessert on the menu. I had such a good time talking with you.

Post & Photos by Asta Karalis

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