New York’s Pastry Perfectionist
A self-taught genius in the kitchen, Pastry Chef Ikuma Motoki now pours a lifetime of global travel experience into the irresistible desserts at ‘21’.
Born in Tokyo, Japan, Ikuma loved dining out as a child, finding a passion for the restaurant business from a young age. His heritage combines Japanese, Mexican and American descent. Working in various restaurant jobs taught him to take classic American dishes and infuse them with new techniques, flavours and whimsy.
In 2002 Ikuma moved across the world to experience the “melting pot” that is New York City. He started work at La Maison du Macaron in 2003, learning the basics of French pastries. He became a Pastry Cook at celebrated chef Charlie Palmer’s restaurant Aureole in 2005.
He moved on to Amalia Restaurant in 2007, where Mediterranean flavours and ingredients expanded his repertoire. In his time here he prepped innovative creations including feta cheesecake and black olive ice cream. In recognition of his talents he was promoted to Head Pastry Chef.
In 2010 Chef Ikuma returned to Aureole as a pastry sous chef under two-star Michelin chef Christopher Lee. He then secured a pastry chef position at the innovative restaurant Townhouse in 2012. Charged with preparing whimsical, upscale pastries to match the elaborate food, Ikuma was able to flex his creative muscle. After a brief sojourn into savoury cuisine, working in Japanese restaurant Momoya, Ikuma found his home at ‘21’ in 2014.
Combining all his experience and feeling stronger than ever, he continues his sweet journey of discovery every single day.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
Chicken liver yakitori in Japan. The chicken came from a farm up north and I had never tasted chicken livers that melt in your mouth the way that these did. No matter where I go to get the same dish, it has never compared to the meal in Japan.
The first dish you ever learned to cook?
The first thing I ever learned to make was a croissant.
Which one ingredient do you love to work with right now?
I love working with alcoholic spirits as they can bring out different flavor profiles. When certain spirits are aged, such as rum and brandy, they can alter and elevate a dish in amazing ways.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration in different aromas. There are many senses that affect the way a person consumes food, and for me smell is a powerful trigger, so I am usually driven by that when I am creating something new.
What is your go-to dish when you’re in a rush?
Bananas Foster. It’s a classic American dish that is really quick to make.
Appetizer or dessert?
Shockingly, appetizer. During a tasting for an upcoming dessert menu that I was creating, I got very ill due to a sugar spike. As a pastry chef, I love dessert, but I must monitor my sugar intake, so I lean a little more towards savory flavors as a personal choice.
What item on your menu best represents you?
I love to create made-to-order desserts because it allows me to make something special, from me directly to the customer. My favorite is Crêpes Suzette.
If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
I would love to go to Spain. My ethnicity is part Japanese and part Mexican, but my parents were born in Spain and I would love to learn more about my roots.
Words to live by?
Believe in yourself and just do it!