Pastry chef Michael Kurowski is not a sugar-loving guy, but guests at Ace Eat Serve
in Uptown would never know it. "I really like presentations, and people eat with their eyes first," says Kurowski. "But my desserts taste as good as they look."
When creating desserts for the eateries, he incorporates bold colors and a mixture of textures. All the ice creams and sorbets, which often show up as an element in a dessert, are made in-house. Tweezers are used, as are edible flowers, fresh fruit and an array of rainbow-hued sauces. Even the turon, a Filipino dish of wrapped, fried brûléed bananas, looks stunning even though it's only a few shades of brown.
When Kurowski took over the pastry program for Secret Sauce, the restaurant group that owns Ace and Steuben's, he replaced a darling of the Denver dessert world: Nadine Donovan, who left the state, taking her sweet skills with her. It's been a year since the switch, and Kurowski shines, which isn't surprising, given his years of experience in the kitchen.
The stunning lemon meringue at Steuben's.
"I knew I had big shoes to fill. Nadine was the first and only pastry chef the company had," Kurowski says. "She was here with me for around two months, so it was a slow transition, which was nice, and we became friends."
For Kurowski, pastry art was always his path. While he doesn't love eating sweets, he loves making eye-catching, colorful, balanced desserts, like a lemon meringue pie with shortbread crust at Steuben's, and coco java cake with purple-hued ube ice cream at Ace, where he also makes housemade fortune cookies complete with unique fortunes in them — including some that offer a free hour of ping-pong.
The chef's initial interest in culinary arts came via home economics classes he took in high school back in Green Bay, Wisconsin. "It felt so easy, and I just thought I could do it," the 29-year-old says. "My teacher supported me and directed me to Johnson and Wales."
At first, Kurowski was supposed to attend classes at the school's Rhode Island campus, but the program was full. So right after high school, Kurowski headed to the now-closed Denver campus. It was a city love match, and he's called Denver home for the past twelve years.
One of the desserts coming soon to the Ace menu is made with lychee, raspberry and a buzz button, an edible flower that makes your mouth tingle.
While Kurowski does have a culinary degree, his passion is baking, pastry and dessert, because he likes the methodical planning and organizing required. Cooking, he says, is too sporadic.
Before Secret Sauce, Kurowski was the pastry chef for the Four Seasons downtown, and while he enjoyed the job for six years, he jumped on the opportunity to join Secret Sauce and flex his creativity in the kitchen more.
The main dessert menus at the restaurants change twice a year, mid-spring and mid-winter. Soon, adds Kurowski, Secret Sauce will have a whole cake program as well; currently, there are cupcakes and a coconut cake available, but options like funfetti, lemon poppy and tiramisu are being added. And if you decide to get married among the ping-pong tables at Ace, Kurowski can make your wedding cake, too.
It's elaborate cakes, he says, that he most enjoys creating. But overall, he adds, working on classic American desserts and Asian-fusion sweets at Secret Sauce has been a lot of fun, and he can't wait to see what comes next.