As we all drown our Monday morning in coffee to get the week going, 29-year-old Will Salisbury is in New York, doing what he’s always doing.
Just in a different kitchen, among people who have been doing it all their lives and in front of people who will deem his work worthy or not to progress to France.
Salisbury is the sous chef of Bullion, where he makes pâté en croûte, a traditionally beautiful pate inside a sturdy and decorative pastry.
He’s been narrowing his skills in this craft for the last 10 months at Bullion, where you can get a slice of it alongside pickles and mustard ($16).
And he’s not just doing it for the benefit of his customers. He has his own motive.
“This past winter, probably around January, it was right after I had been diagnosed with cancer: We knew that I was going to need something to kind of occupy some of my work time that maybe wasn’t necessarily working on the line, but [would] still allow me to continue to work,” he says.
At the time, chef de cuisine Toby Archibald — who has since left to serve as executive chef at the soon-to-be Georgie by Curtis Stone — was generally the one making the pâté en croûte.
“He taught me how to make them, taught me all of his techniques and sort of his tricks and let me have at it through all of my treatments,” Salisbury says.
You can watch the evolution on his Instagram feed, where you can see plenty of cutaway shots of his work. As Salisbury says, that’s the classic way to photograph pâté en croûte. It is, in reality, smaller than it appears in photos, where it can look something like 5 inches wide when it’s really just about 3 inches.
As he embraced the artistry behind the pâté en croûte, he found out about this competition for it through Bullion’s sales rep from D'Artagnan Foods.
“I decided I was going to make it a goal to enter and get selected, so I kept practicing, making one or two pâtés a week, then the time came around, I submitted my entry,” he says.
His entry consisted of photos of the entire pâté en croûte, as well as slices and a general recipe. All of that got him in, presumably against chefs who have a few more years on him and plenty more experience.
Salisbury says he’s confident in his skills, but he’s aware it’s a steep competition.
“There’s a lot of things that can go wrong. ... I had a few failure pates,” he says. “You don’t find out it’s not going to work until it’s done.”
That means you’re in 10 hours of work over the course of two days, and you have a platter-sized creation that didn’t live up to what you wanted.
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Creativity comes in with both the pate — how it looks and tastes — and the exterior pastry itself. Salisbury explains the process isn’t that much different from decorating a pie crust. He uses a cutout for some pieces, then he cuts by hand with an X-Acto knife for others.
In New York, he’ll be working in a restaurant that has a similar kitchen to Bullion, to make his pâté en croûte to present Monday. If selected, he can go on to compete in France.
Bullion, 400 S. Record St., Suite 150 (downtown). 972-698-4250.