Pastry Chef at The Gables Brings Tastes of France to Restaurant

By DORA DUNN | Aug 02, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill White Rabbit: Carrot Cake, Pineapple Carpaccio, Mango Carrot Mousse, Lime Mango Sauce and Carrot Chips

A proper patissier is a special sort of human being. They are nerdy alchemists; they are artistic seducers; they are culinary archivists – in a word, they are unique. Superior patissiers are possessed of humility and a generous spirit, and eagerly share knowledge with those coming behind them. Khalil Debira is an exceptional patissier in command of the desserts at The Gables in Beach Haven.

“In France, pastry chefs try to make you forget everything with just a touch of sweet,” he said.

While this is his first year at The Gables, Debira has been in the United States for the past four years. “I’m especially coming from France for you guys so I can make you enjoy the real stuff you were having a couple of years ago before companies started flavoring the stuff they give us.”

The Tunisian Frenchman packed his charisma alongside his soufflé pans to challenge American notions about what constitutes yummy desserts. According to a Monmouth University poll, 42 percent of restaurant goers never order dessert. In Debira’s world, that’s unacceptable.

“Having dinner without dessert is like going to fireworks without waiting until the finale, which is the best part.”

The patissier is the one who “brings you happiness and sunshine, this touch of sweet, of berry,” that reminds people of home, of desserts prepared by Grandma. He’s got the chops to change people’s mind about dessert.

Typically, dessert in America is an experience in sugar shock. Debira’s desserts are an umami, or savory, experience. All of them are stunningly presented. All of them are, by turns, warm and cool, sweet and tart, creamy and crunchy with complex layered flavors. Chocolate Decadence, the dark chocolate flourless cake, is made with Guittard chocolate, arguably the best chocolatier in the world. The mousse atop the cake is milk chocolate in exquisite counterpoint to the dark chocolate. Garnished with cardamom candied macadamia nuts and salted caramel sauce, the dish is greater than the sum of its parts. Each element is produced by hand.

Debira is particular about the way in which his desserts are enjoyed. He carefully guides the fork through the mousse, the cake, the sauce, clipping just a nugget of macadamia before he offers the fork. The flavor of the dark chocolate coats the palate, plunging the soul into a vortex of pleasure; then whoosh, a glide along the caramel goodness with the crunch of the macadamia as your guide until finally, the softest kiss of milk chocolate to leave you gasping and wanting more. One more bite, please.

The Black Currant Nougat Glacée is accompanied by almonds, hazelnut, pistachio and pine nuts with a black currant sorbet and a vodka-infused black currant coulis. It’s positively head-spinning. But wait, there’s more; it is garnished with an almond crumble.  Black currants are the king of berries, and in Debira’s kitchen, he teases from them a depth of flavor that reminds of sunshine and summer.

These desserts don’t exact as big a hit on the daily calorie count as you might think. The mousse on the Decadence is made with whipped egg whites; the glacée on the nougat has no sugar. His ingredients are organic, most imported from France; nothing is stretched by sugar. “We try to bring you heaven on a plate” is his philosophy.

With apologies to Mr. Emerson, there are no hobgoblins in a patissier’s mind; consistency is the ultimate virtue. Consistency coupled with a passionate personality and the skill to tease helpless moans from the dessert patron can seem incongruent, but in Debira’s case it all works. The chef has been working for 16 years at his art and only now declares “I am experienced.” In France, cooks and patissiers apprentice for years, learning, failing, honing, succeeding. Debira welcomes the idea of an apprentice in his kitchen.  He says it’s important to teach an apprentice “corn syrup is not the issue.” He wants them to learn “to scale and be precise every time; to have, every time, the same stuff,” the only way to replicate desserts night after night. Without this, he frets that “no change can come for us in the future, for us, for the restaurant.”

Long Beach Island has been home to The Gables for a long time. Once used to house lifeguards, the grand structure even had an iteration as a vegetable market. Today this five-room bed and breakfast is home to a remarkable dinner house on Long Beach Island, smack dab in the middle of Beach Haven’s Historic District. Owner Sondra Beninati has respectfully restored this gorgeous place, now in its 13th season. Nowhere is her sophisticated aesthetic in conflict with the vibe of this 19th-century Victorian. The restoration is fresh and evocative.

The porch is available for dining – what better place to savor a meal prepared under the direction of Executive Chef Richard Diemer and enjoy the finale from patissier extraordinaire Khalil Debira? Welcome to America, sir.

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