When I first saw Theirry Houlbert, the pastry chef on board Celebrity Cruises' beautiful Millennium, he was demonstrating the fine art of decorating a chocolate cake with melted white chocolate being squeezed out of a tiny paper cone. And then he rolled little balls of green and pink almond paste between his fingers, creating picture-perfect rose garnishes.
I've tried to do what he did, what he managed to do in three minutes flat. His cake was a work of art, a veritable Michelangelo of ganache and marzipan. Mine took two days and ended up resembling something upon which King Kong sat.
Theirry's impish smile, obvious sense of humor, and creative flair made me want to talk to him. I had spent just over a week enjoying the breads, pastries and desserts that he oversees, and I wanted to know more about him. Maybe he could provide a recipe, too...
Although he makes his home now in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Theirry is originally from Le Mans, France. He joined Celebrity Cruises 12 years ago, working on Meridian, Horizon, Zenith and Century. With a short detour to Princess Cruises in 1998, Theirry rejoined Celebrity in 2002 and has been Millennium's pastry chef for two years. He is responsible for every dessert, every cake, every croissant, Danish, breadstick and baguette that's served on Millennium. He determines the flavors of the homemade ice cream, the texture of the cheesecake, the precise sweetness of the crème brulée.
"With [Michelin-starred French chef] Michel Roux guiding our menu selections," he says, "coming back to Celebrity was a natural choice for me. I'm French and I like the French cooking style." In April, 2006, he will spend two weeks as an "apprentice" at Roux's London restaurant, Waterside, to further hone his techniques.
"We make everything fresh, from the best ingredients," he continues. "We make all of our ice cream and sherbet onboard, all of our breads and pastries and desserts."
When he isn't squishing balls of marzipan into perfectly-shaped rose petals or supervising his staff in creating mouth-watering confections, Theirry enjoys kicking back on the beaches of Jamaica with his wife Anna and their nine-year-old twins Mickello and Mickella. He doesn't cook when he's home.
He shared his recipe for Bananas Foster with me. Why this particular dessert, I wanted to know.
"It's easy to make," he tells me. "The ingredients aren't too expensive and it's a very impressive dessert to serve to company."
THEIRRY HOULBERT'S BANANAS FOSTER
À LA CELEBRITY MILLENNIUM
Sugar 1 lb
Corn syrup 4 oz
Water 5 oz
Butter 4 oz
Banana liqueur 8 oz
Cook everything together except the banana liqueur until the sugar is melted and the sauce creates a syrup; add the liqueur.
In a saucepan, add 2 oz. of the caramel sauce, and the following:
Banana liquor 1 shot
Cognac 1 shot
Fresh lemon juice ½ pc
Fresh orange juice ½ pc
Mix the carmel sauce with the lemon and orange juice.
Add the banana liqueur
Add two pieces of sliced bananas
Cook on high for a minute or so, until the sauce is bubbly.
Then add the cognac and flambé (light the sauce with a match or lighter).
Place on a dessert plate,
Pipe a circle of whip cream, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream,
Garnish with mint leaves and toasted almonds.