Welcome to The Sugar Files, where Eater uncovers and features the city's best pastry talent. In this edition, Justin Hofmann of Fuel Café gets the spotlight.
Justin Hofmann [Photo: Adam Larkey]
Justin Hofmann is the man behind the pastry program at Fuel Café, a five year old restaurant owned by chef Bob Blair in RiNo. In sync with Fuel's seasonal food philosophy, the dessert menu changes every month. In his eighteen months as pastry chef, Hofmann has created 56 unique desserts for the dinner menu. Before this 23-year-old Denver native landed at Fuel where he started as a dishwasher, he was doing asphalt construction at airports. Now, he is executing a solid line-up of confections. September's menu includes allumettes of house-made puff pastry with passion fruit mousse, fresh raspberries, and pomegranate pearls.
Don't wait to try it - go now, because come October there will be a completely new menu. I arrived a day late for this August marvel: sweet corn panna cotta with lime jam, coconut caramel corn, and candied chile. Hofmann talked to Eater about pastry life at Fuel which includes lots of pop-tarts and goofy dancing.
How did you get into pastry?It's a funny story. I was working lunches on the line and a position opened up. I was like, I'll do it. I just kind of learned. Every month it's something different and I'm always learning something new. Fuel is like my school. I didn't go to culinary school.
What are you responsible for making at Fuel?I make three different desserts each month for the dinner menu. I do wholesale pastries for Novo coffee and Boxcar coffee. I make pastas and pretzels. It's busy.
What is your approach to pastry?I have to look at what's in season. Then I go to the Flavor Bible and ask, alright what goes good with peaches. I kind of just build along that. The Flavor Bible is where I get most of my ideas. I love it.
What's your favorite thing to make?Anything using tasty fruit and pastas.
What's your least favorite thing to make?My least favorite thing to make is pop tarts, but that's probably because I do it almost every day.
Outside of work, what do you look for in pastries and desserts?I definitely do go out and do some research. I really like fruit desserts. Chocolate can be tough for me if it's super rich. I like chocolate dishes that have brightness, or acidity, or fruit- something to cut the richness. I definitely prefer lighter desserts.
What is the most challenging part about your job?It can be very stressful. The hours are long, but I'm used to it now. Sometimes it can be hard to come up with new desserts each month. I get caught up in the day-to-day grind.
What is your work schedule like? I work Wednesday through Sunday, I do brunch on Sundays and I'm cooking eggs, which is funny for me. Right now I am also working the line at Uncle Mondays and Tuesdays just to make some extra money. I had Labor Day off and that was my first day off in 64 days or something. I've just been going like a zombie for a while, but I'm good now.
What do you need in order to have a good day at work?To have a good day I need coffee, and lots of it. I need to be organized and clear headed. Also, I need good music and goofy dancing. There's a lot of that here.
What is the best thing about your job?Freedom. I can do whatever I want here. Bob really lets me have complete control over what I do. And I work with awesome people. It's like a little family here.
What is the best pastry or dessert you've had in Denver?The dacquoise at Beast and Bottle- I just had it a couple of weeks ago and it was super tasty. I did a dacquiose a couple of months ago so it was cool to go and try another one.
Do you have any advice to aspiring pastry chefs?Be organized and patient. Pastry is a science of weight, temperature, and time. Some things don't always work if it's not exactly right.
I hear you have a nickname.Smoothie. The chef gave it to me back when I was washing dishes. He started calling me J-Smooth and then it turned into smoothie. People will work here for two or three months and not even know my real name, it's super funny.
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