Meet Chef Miranda Kohout. A wanderlust-filled Arkansas explorer, the Pastry Chef at Pressroom, and the whipping whisk behind one of the most modern dessert menus in NWA.
It has been an exciting ride for Kohout since Chef Mike Robertshaw added her to his team. In a region where home-style classics are the persisting norm, they were determined to “think outside the pie” and bring something fresh to the area. She was tasked with creating a dessert menu largely based on seasonality, and often showcasing the peak experience and versatility of a single ingredient.
We settle at a table on the patio with several desserts to talk about and try. Kohout’s hair is held back with a pink polka dot JUNK headband and her forearms display a collection of cooking scars. She describes each dessert with pure joy written on her face, but also with the planning and precision you’d expect from someone who’d previously pursued a degree in economics. She uses her hands to illustrate every thought and as she speaks about her work, I can tell, she’s meant for it.
“When I moved here, no one was hiring for a position like this one. I came from restaurants that didn’t just have one pastry chef – they had entire teams – some with incredibly large programs. Most places here were looking for a baker.”
Like chefs can make soup, something thought of as simple, mind-bendingly delicious, pastry chefs can bake on levels not often achieved by home cooks. But the true magic experienced from both lies in the composed plate.
“Something I was told in pastry school that has stuck with me to this day is that the best desserts remind people of something they loved as a kid. So I often start there. Nostalgia is a real ingredient in pastry! I love to build on memories and elevate them.”
Kohout’s approach to dessert is whimsical and she always includes surprises. In what sounds like a whirlwind of flavor profile one-uppery, she describes a favorite dish, “I had rhubarb from the farm early this year and was wondering what I should do with it. This jam popped in my head I had made many moons ago – rhubarb and earl grey. It was really delicious and so unique. I also love the Italian gelato on brioche bun-thing and wanted to introduce an experience that nodded at that.”
What followed was the creation of a Rhubarb Profiterole. A crackly streusel-topped choux puff served as the perfect open shell for a singular giant pearl of earl grey ice cream scented with orange. The rhubarb jam that inspired it all was smeared inside, and a pretty pink rhubarb foam completed the plate. The dessert was what you might picture being served at a fantasy wedding of the Little Mermaid to Prince Harry, but was also legitimately profound and elegant in taste. Housing the perfect mash-up of tart and sweet with the bergamot-infused Earl Grey adding a surprising earthy and herbal note, it was perhaps the most magically refreshing ice cream sandwich ever made.
The careful planning of each component and how they marry, tasted separately and together in every possible combination; that forethought is both a gift and a cultivated skill. Everything in a modern approach to pastry is premeditated to provide an experience that far surpasses the dictionary definition of “eat.”
Case in point, Kohout’s Banana Pudding.
A perfect tart sits on the plate, the buttery toasted shell freckled with vanilla beans. It’s topped with a man-hole cover of chocolate, guarding the fillings of pillowy caramel-banana Bavarian cream and sticky banana curd. Pouring the hot amber caramel sauce over the top of the cool tart, the chocolate shell melts slightly and creates a feast of textures and temperatures begging to be devoured within fleeting moments. Just to be sure you’ll be ruined for any other banana pudding forever and ever, the tart is bordered by gems of sliced banana, each its own little crème brulee, and everything is nested on a generous duvet of vanilla bean whipped cream.
You don’t just eat this banana pudding. You have a brief affair with it.
If you haven’t been tempted enough, currently on offer is an Apple Upside-Down Cake with a cornmeal-creme fraiche cake, little pockets of pastry cream throughout, sautéed and spiced local apples, rosemary ice cream and smoked honey. “The littlest hint of smoke brings this dish together for me,” Kohout explains, “Wood smoke in the air is one of my absolute favorite Autumn details.”
Hurry in before the ultimate Pumpkin Cake makes way for a pear dessert, or, if you want, wait for the pear. You can’t go wrong. Even beer enthusiasts inspire Kohout in a cheeky take on warm chocolate caramel crepes, layered one on top of the other, next to malted Best Brown Ale ice cream, topped with salty-sweet pretzel praline.
Pastry professionals are often the unsung heroes of your dining swan song. Their culinary art is meant for something transcending mere sustenance, with a singular purpose: pleasure. And with the surprises Kohout has in store for you, to err on the side of deprivation would be a crying shame. After all, in the great words of Erma Bombeck, “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waived off the dessert cart.”
*Follow Chef Kohout’s culinary and Ozark adventures on Instagram @miranda_ak.