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How sweet it is
PROVIDED PHOTO Chef Alain Roby is the executive pastry chef of Hyatt Regency Chicago and senior corporate pastry chef for Hyatt Hotels and Resorts.

Chef Alain Roby has a unique perspective on desserts.

His creativity is seen in an array of dishes which feature interesting takes on traditional desserts. From chocolate salami to coconut cracker pudding, Roby's sweet treats are not only delicious but dazzling.

As executive pastry chef of Hyatt Regency Chicago and senior corporate pastry chef for Hyatt Hotels and Resorts for more than two decades, Roby's sweet creations have been sampled by food lovers from around the world.

The chef is now tempting home bakers to test his recipes in his first book "Alain Roby's American Classics: Casual and Elegant Desserts."

"All of the recipes in the book are very easy to do, I wanted to make the directions accessible for home cooks," said Roby, during a recent interview in his Hyatt Regency Chicago kitchen.

The chef, who served as the pastry chef to the Shah of Iran and has cooked for presidents, celebrities and other dignitaries around the globe, said he's received good feedback about the book from fellow chefs and food lovers. Just after the book was released in the fall, Roby appeared at Epcot Center at Walt Disney World where he did a book signing.

"American Classics" is broken down by seasons, starring perfect desserts under the headings Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and All Seasons. Among decadent offerings are chocolate pudding in a chocolate flower pot; Key Lime pie with a chocolate cookie crust; Kentucky Derby sundae pie; cinnamon rice pudding; chocolate mashed potato cake; and brioche pizza.

Roby, a native of France, was influenced in the culinary field by his mother's love for shopping the local markets and her passion for good food as well as his grandmother's love of cooking. He said he started to focus on desserts in a big way while working in New York.

"I really fell in love with American desserts when I got transferred to open Windows on the World at the World Trade Center," he said.

That was after his work in Iran, where he said the Windows on the World position was a welcome experience after what he had left.

"During the Iranian revolution and the ensuing hostage crisis, I was held at gunpoint and sent to a detention center for two weeks. I was eventually released to the Red Cross. This experience was the worst of my life," he writes in "American Classics."

Ironically, his first job at Windows on the World was to create a special dessert for former American hostages who had been released from Tehran.

He said it was an honor to work with food great James Beard during his time in New York when Beard was a consultant to food personnel opening the Hotel Vista International at the World Trade Center.

"James Beard was a very passionate and knowledgeable man," Roby said, adding the bow-tie wearing food luminary was also a "patient" professional.

With his new book, Roby puts the focus on many American desserts he's loved creating through the years.

"I like taking old fashioned and classic desserts and turning them around," he said.

Though Roby enjoys putting his own twist on sweets, he said, classic desserts like "classic clothing" don't really change too much.

"An apple pie 20 years ago is an apple pie today," he said.

When asked by beginning culinary students about his views on the culinary field, Roby said he advises them to "relax, enjoy and, have fun" with whatever projects they tackle.

"And I tell students we are in the entertainment business. My joy is to make people happy," Roby said.

A portion of the proceeds from "American Classics" will be donated to Saving Tiny Hearts Society, which raises money for life-saving research of congenital heart defects. (Roby's son Jonathan, 18, was diagnosed with a heart defect just a few years ago.) FYI: www.chefroby.com

Key Lime Pie with a Chocolate Cookie Crust

Cookie crust:

4 cups chocolate cookie crumbs

1 stick melted butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons sugar

Filling:

7 egg yolks

1 can condensed milk

3-3/4 cups lime juice

3 tablespoons lime zest

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a food processor, grind chocolate cookies into fine crumbs. Transfer crumbs to a medium bowl. Melt butter and add to the cookie crumbs. Add flour and sugar, mixing well. Take small individual aluminum pie dishes (approximately 3-1/2 inches in diameter) and grease well. Place about 1/2 cup of the cookie mix into each pie dish and press crumbs on the edge and bottom to form a pie shell. Bake for about 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool. To prepare the Key Lime pie filling, combine egg yolk, condensed milk, lime juice and lime zest, mixing well. Pour into individual pie crusts and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool and unmold when ready to serve. Top with whipped cream and fresh lime zest.

SOURCE: "Alain Roby's American Classics: Casual and Elegant Desserts"

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