I sat down with veteran pastry chef, Mary Jo Thorsen of Chez Panisse, to hear about what moves her in working with food, why she’s called Chez Panisse home for so long, and why she’s chosen Frog Hollow Fruit for 25 years.
Mary Jo has made a name for herself as a pastry chef and restaurateur. She started her career at Chez Panisse’s pastry kitchen in 1981 and, after several personal ventures, returned home to Chez Panisse. Throughout much of this time, Mary Jo has been a great friend to Frog Hollow Farm.
Mary Jo first discovered Frog Hollow Farm through her husband, fellow chef and Chez Panisse Alum, Curt Clingman. Curt was sourcing some peaches and wanted to personally vet the farm. Curt and Mary Jo drove out to Frog Hollow to meet Farmer Al. She remembers first seeing Al open the door and walk out of the trailer he lived in on the middle of the farm. They spent the day touring the farm with Al, tasting his fruit and listening to his visionary musings. They were hooked.
Since then, Mary Jo has consistently relied on Frog Hollow’s summer fruit. She calls the farm’s Flavor King Pluots “the start of the summer.” Beyond the consistently superb flavor of our fruit, she appreciates how carefully handled and clearly loved it is. The beauty of the produce she works with in Chez Panisse’s kitchen “constantly moves her.” It’s one of the things that keeps her passion for cooking stoked. She says that one of the best parts of working at Chez Panisse is the premium placed on quality ingredients and the “wonderful freedom” that affords her and other Chez chefs. If she wants to use top notch fruit to make a sorbet or galette she can. In fact, summer galettes are her favorite use of Frog Hollow’s Flavor Kings.
After many years of cooking and baking, I wondered what kept Mary Jo in the kitchen. She said that she’s constantly inspired by the simplest things. Indeed the beauty of what she does is that from the “youngest to the newest cooks to the oldest and most seasoned, there is always something to learn, if you’re watching for it.” To be a successful chef “you need to get pleasure out of what you do. The difference between something good and great is the attention paid to the details.”
This struck me as the heart of our discussion. What makes Chez Panisse, Frog Hollow Fruit, and Mary Jo’s pastry so great? They love what they do, and you can taste the difference.