Dominique and Cindy Duby are celebrated pâtissiers and chocolatiers, innovators and authors. Their striking desserts are legendary, as is their seemingly-boundless creativity. The husband and wife team have been the subject of critical acclaim and lauded with countless awards for their culinary achievements. With such an awe-inspiring resumé, I was nothing short of honoured when they agreed to (virtually) sit down with me for an interview via e-mail. Our conversation took place just before the release of their third cookbook, a study of crème brûlées - both sweet and savoury.

seven spoons: First off, the obvious question; why devote an entire book to crème brûlée?

DC Duby: Actually, it is our publisher who asked us to write a new series of books on single topics and this is the first one/topic. Crème brûlée is actually is really easy dessert to make for the home chefs but it also offer us, as chefs/authors, with a great challenge to be creative and expand on this topic. We believe that we offered some classics, but also a lot of new ideas, info on the creative process (flavour pairing), some of the science behind custard, et cetera. So this book is more than just basic recipes.

7S:Innovation seems one of your hallmarks; referencing classic pastry recipes, but reimagining them. Where do you find your inspiration?

DCD: As you mentioned, classics are the basis of our inspiration and we try to 'construct' (a constructivism approach is one of our basis for innovation) from there.

7S: What trends or ingredients are inspiring you right now?

DCD: As always, any ingredients that can expand the palette of traditional pastry making, we want to try it. We love using vegetables and/or herbs and spices in our sweets.

7S: You are known for pushing the boundaries of pastry, often employing an arsenal of scientific techniques in your repertoire. In fact, sections of your online boutique read like a chemistry textbook.How do you find a balance between technique and ingredient? What comes first in the development of a recipe?

DCD: We sell Elements which are culinary ingredients; you are right to say that they are chemicals but then you would have to call salt and sugar as chemicals as well! So we prefer that people refer to our Elements as specialty ingredients for modern cuisine, just the same way that starch (modified or not) became a new specialty ingredient used to thicken sauces instead of flour. As well as a cookbook, we want our site to be a boutique where [people can] buy products and also a site to get information We will have a lot more recipes posted in the new update next month as well as culinary videos to demo culinary techniques.

[In regards to the question of technique], we think that people sometimes seem to forget that a freezer was a very novel tool in its time. Liquid nitrogen was used by ice cream makers in the US in the early 1900, yet some people think that this a recent culinary innovation. We work with scientists all the time and they are always quick to point out that there is not that many new ideas in food science, just new ways of thinking. To answer your question, technique and ingredient are in symbiosis - if you have a great ingredient but apply a poor cooking technique (conventional or modern), the result will be mediocre and vice versa with a great technique applied on a poor quality ingredient. The design process for us is twofold; like scientists, we bring forth a hypothesis for a new dish or chocolate and first is flavour combination then it is texture.

7S: Your aesthetic is quite modern, minimalist and yet impactful. How do you approach presenting a dish or designing a confection?

DCD: We always tell chefs, why spend an already overloaded work day with making time consuming sugar or chocolate decors that most patrons will just put to the side and not eat? Time would be much better spent on the dish itself be with better ingredients, novel techniques, et cetera.

7S: Often you will hear chefs and cooks separate what they cook professionally, and what they cook in their own kitchen. What is the typical dinner (or favourite dinner) for two pastry chefs at home? What five pantry or refrigerator staples do you like to have stocked at all times?

Culinary speaking, [Dominique] trained as a 'savoury' chef first and [Cindy] only trained a sweet chef. Typically, unless we are doing research, we will not eat or make a dessert at home. But we do cook everyday and are very concerned with nutrition. We love using the pressure cooker, great meals in no time. We have three of them and two induction stoves so we can have a great healthy meal prepared in very little time.

It would be culinary death for us if we could or would only have five ingredients stocked at all times. We have lots of dry spices (garam masala, star anise, cinnamon, ancho and other chilies), Asian sauce bases like hoisin, lots of fresh herbs in our garden (parsley, basil, rosemary, sage, tarragon), and we always have a lot of vegetables from different alliums, roots like carrot, fennel, potatoes, and what ever else is available at the farmers market that we shop as at least twice a week like eggplant, savoy cabbage, parsnip. Not too much protein though except for fish.

7S: And finally, three questions in one. What is your favourite celebratory dessert?

DCD: A great carrot cake turn into a birthday cake is far better for us that a pretentious or badly executed multi-layer cake with rubbery mousses, dry biscuit bases, et cetera.

Your favourite comfort dessert?

DCD: We love chocolate and most derivatives of it. Depending on the season, we make ice cream or sorbet in our Paco Jet - fantastic. In the fall and winter, we love a pie made of pate sucrée filled with an almond cream and baked topped with pears or apples. When berries are good, a crispy puff pastry with vanilla pastry cream and fresh strawberries is great.

Your favourite guilty pleasure?

DCD: Great food with great wines.

A sincere thank you to Dominique and Cindy Duby for taking time out of this interview. My snapshot review of their new book, Crème Brûlée (Whitecap, 2008), will appear as part of my look at a selection of Canadian cookbooks from 2008 - keep an eye out for it next week.

In the foreground, Artichoke Asiago Squares. All photos courtesy of Irene Powell.

On a cold October evening, nothing could have been more welcoming than the sight of Anna Olson's new shop, Olson Foods at Ravine; tucked amongst the vineyards of St. David's, Ontario, the windows of the farmhouse-styled store shone warmly as we drove up the winding gravel driveway.

Though a celebration of Anna Olson's new book,In the Kitchen with Anna, (Whitecap Books, 2008) the evening was also felt to be the formal debut of the three-month-old shop, the second owned by the Food Network star and her husband (in this case also in partnership with Ravine Winery). It specializes in baked goods, fine foods and condiments, artisinal Canadian cheeses, select cookware items and boasts a small café-styled menu to be enjoyed on site, or for takeaway.

The store is expansive without feeling cavernous. The vaulted ceiling with glossy exposed beams embody the rustic elegance that seems the hallmark of Olson Foods at Ravine. A generous harvest table greeted us on arrival, tastefully adorned with seasonal flowers and an array of savoury nibbles from the book, including wedges of Provençal Tarts and slices of Brandied Pork Terrine, studded with cranberries and pistachios.

To one side of the room the bakery and deli beckons; servers are standing at the ready, offering up steaming bowls of Celery Soup with Blue Cheese. The on-site wood fired oven produced the gloriously-burnished roasted chicken on display, and is to thank for the house-made breads piled generously on the counter. To the other side of the room, backed by displays of oils, vinegars and jams, delicate cake stands present a trio of Mocha Hazelnut Cheesecakes. At their feet are platters of Lemon Cheesecake Mousse Tarts and perfectly-cut rows of Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars.

Taking it all in, we wandered the shop; handcrafted cutting boards from Stratford, Ontario were of particular interest, as were the array of salts and aromatic teas. Rainbow-hued enamelled cookware gleamed brightly from the shelves.

A wonderful compliment to the lakeside location of the original Olson's location in Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines, Ontario, Olson Foods at Ravine feels earthy and lush; well-placed in Niagara's wine region, it is a wonderful addition to the area, and is surely to become a favourite for locals and visitors alike.

Almost too lovely to eat, Mocha Hazelnut Cheesecakes.

With two bustling stores, the second season of her highly-successful new show Fresh recently wrapped up, and a new book on shelves, Anna Olson has a lot going on. I was able to grab a moment of her time to chat about food, inspiration and seasonal tastes.

seven spoons: Your new show has taken you out of a white studio space into the vibrant colours of your own home; with that, you have shifted your focus from desserts alone to foods for all occasions. How have you taken to the change?

Anna Olson: I'd have to say that I'm going back to my roots; that is, I started my culinary career not as a pastry chef, but as a savoury cook. Developing my pastry skills happened about six years after [I started] cooking. I have been a chef for almost 15 years - oops! Dating myself.

I feel this latest book shows a bit more of my complete self, not just the baker in me.

7S: Your book, In the Kitchen with Anna, follows this move to homey, accessible takes on the classics. How did you approach writing it?

AO: Fortunately the approach to writing this latest book was not a stretch of the imagination. I did not have to reach far for motivation; in fact, I took a step back to see what dishes and flavour combinations I was reaching for instinctively. I find, to get through my hectic days, I was cooking not just comfort food, but dishes that spoke to classic flavour combinations - yet with a little kick or something different to keep me interested, both in cooking and in eating.

7S: What would you consider your major influences in the kitchen? Any culinary heroes?

AO: I have the greatest admiration for chef Michael Olson, my husband. Before I knew him personally, I came to the Niagara Region to work with him professionally; I [had] admired, and still do, his commitment to using local, seasonal ingredients.

7S: With your two stores, Olson Foods at Port and the new Olson Foods at Ravine, what trends are you seeing with customers tastes?

AO: I find that customers aren't necessarily seeking exotic high-end ingredients. They want products that have a story or personal connection, and without fail it has to be a quality product. With food safety becoming a more publicized issue, knowing where your food comes from is important.

7S: Are there any particular ingredients or products that are particularly inspiring to you right now?

AO: Being seasonally motivated, I am happy as can be to cook with pumpkin, squash, onions, sage and rosemary. I do a roast every weekend in the autumn and I also eat a lot more cheese than I do any other time of year.

7S: Often you will hear chefs and cooks separate what they cook professionally, and what they cook in their own kitchen. Is that the case with you, and what is your go-to recipe at home?

AO: Since the two stores feature a great deal of familiar flavours and dishes, I'm not seeking to separate myself from them. In the day when I worked fine dining, after a service of cooking lobster, foie gras and making elaborate sauces, I would need to break away. I think that, like many chefs, the roasted chicken Sunday supper is the epitome of the perfect meal.

7S: And finally, three questions in one. It would be remiss not to ask you about sweets, as you have become so famous for your decadent creations. What is your favourite celebratory dessert? Your favourite comfort dessert? Your favourite guilty pleasure?

AO: Ah, I can never give a straight answer to that "favourite" question. Yes, I am seasonally motivated, so that shapes my favourites; I wouldn't dream of making a strawberry tart in October. But, I am very much craving-motivated when it comes to sweets ... when I want chocolate, I can think of nothing else until I get my chocolate!! And sometimes that's how the best recipes happen - by pure craving!

My thanks to Anna Olson for taking the time to speak with me; please look out for my thoughts on In the Kitchen with Anna: New Ways with the Classics early next week.

From top; freshly-baked Museli Bread, delicate bites of Lemon Cheesecake Mousse, and (with Brandied Pork Terrine in the background) chef Anna Olson's new book.


A mammoth muffin; from his cookbook, Marty Curtis' Lemon, Blueberry and Cream Cheese Muffins. Photo courtesy of Deep Media.

Although I consider myself the giving sort, I have a confession to make. While I do believe that to be asked for a recipe is the highest of compliments, whenever I hear that request I do take a millisecond pause. I mean, of course I will share. But then again, if I give away all my tricks, will I have no mystique left?

Marty Curtis boasts a love of food that is legendary in the Muskokas and seems to have no such qualms over divulging his recipes. Owner of Marty's World Famous Café in Bracebridge, Ontario, Mr. Curtis has recently released his first cookbook; a book that shares the favourties that have made his shop a success for the last 12 years. Even the secret of the house specialty, the absolutely enormous butter tarts, is revealed within.

A warm welcome Mr. Curtis as first guest for the new "Seven Questions" feature on the site. In his interview, Mr. Curtis spoke about his inspirations in the kitchen, taste trends and finally, those much-lauded butter tarts.

seven spoons: How do your café and the book reflect your food philosophy?

Marty Curtis: Keep it simple. Easy to find ingredients that people are familiar with, when prepared with passion, make for an enjoyable, memorable meal. How you feel before you begin cooking is in direct relation to the end results.

7S: In the book you reference a similarity to Paula Deen in the way you've come to your success. You also have a bit in common with Ina Garten and Martha Stewart in that you left other careers to follow a passion for food. What advice would you now pass on to someone planning a similar leap?

MC: Believe in yourself, feel positive and enjoy what you are doing. For me, having a greater purpose other than yourself will make your work much more enjoyable and a lot of fun.

7S: Marty's World Famous Café has been in operation since 1996; over the years what changes have you noticed in the tastes of your customers and how has your menu evolved?

MC: Some people are wanting lighter menu items loaded with flavour and others still love hearty comfort food. Our phyllo quiche with locally grown leeks has been a big hit lately, served with a simple spring mix salad with olive oil and rice wine vinegar dressing. Our squash soup will appear again this fall as will our Turkey Pot Pie. All in all keeping up the quality is key.

7S: What trends or ingredients are inspiring you right now?

MC: With fall upon us, I am getting excited about pumpkin and squash right now. Now is when we gear up for Thanksgiving time and we make our fresh pumpkin pies again and squash soup sneaks its way onto our menu once again. I absolutely love this time of year for the cooler weather and the smell of a roaring fireplace. The seasonal changes really bring out some creativity and make for fun culinary experiences too.

7S: Often you will hear chefs and cooks separate what they cook professionally, and what they cook in their own kitchen. Is that the case with you, and what is your go-to recipe at home?

MC: I enjoy all the salads at home that you will find on our menu at the café. A great rib steak every now and again as well as a great rack of slow cooked ribs with grilled vegetables. As for a go to recipe ... the Trivial Marinade as mentioned in the cookbook is a go to recipe for me. It works with just about anything for the grill ... beef, chicken or pork.

7S: What are your five pantry or refrigerator staples?

MC: Eggs, butter, pasta, veggies and fruit.

7S: And finally, the obvious question. Why share the secret of your famous buttertart recipe?

MC: It makes me feel good to know that people now have the secret recipe and are able to recreate something in the comfort of their own home that has brought us success on many different levels. It's educational, fun and comforting. Everyone wins.

Thanks to Marty Curtis for taking the time to speak with us. Look out for my review of Marty's World Famous Cookbook (Whitecap, 2008) coming up on Monday, September 15, 2008. The recipe for the Lemon, Blueberry and Cream Cheese Muffins is available in the book and online here (scroll down).