Story by Marti Rosenquist | Photography by Nina Kuna
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we wanted a romantic recipe to share with readers. Who better to ask than Chef Cameron Lewark, chef de cuisine of Spago in the Four Seasons Resort Maui? Not only is Spago one of the most romantic restaurants on Maui, Chef Lewark was preparing to recite his wedding vows the week we stopped by.
His favorite romantic recipe is this puffy pancake, a soufflé-like confection he mastered in his mother’s kitchen. The dish is light, sweet and satisfying, yet uncomplicated; perfect for a special-occasion breakfast in bed.
“We would make it on special mornings,” explains the chef’s mom, Jenny, on island for her son’s upcoming nuptials.
Chef Lewark credits his mom for inspiring his culinary career at an early age. Jenny worked late hours as a schoolteacher and would often come home to find two hungry boys eagerly awaiting dinner. Realizing he could satisfy his own hunger and delight his mother in one fell swoop, the budding chef began simple meals of grilled-cheese sandwiches. Since then he has worked his way up, now producing impeccable fare at one of Maui’s premier dining rooms and serving as an associate partner of Wolfgang Puck’s Spago Maui.
If you’ve seen Top Chef or Hell’s Kitchen, you know that being a chef and helming a business is demanding work. But today, Chef Lewark has it easy. He cracks two eggs into a mixing bowl, blends in a half-cup each of flour and milk, three tablespoons of sugar, and whisks energetically.
“We soak our vanilla beans in vanilla extract,” Chef says as he draws a long, brown bean from a canister. “This helps keep the precious beans moist and malleable when you scrape the seeds out.” Chef slices open the skinny pod and with the nose of his knife, scrapes the meat from the center.
“Vanilla must be cultivated by hand. It’s an orchid, so it is hand pollinated and harvested. That mush I’m scooping out contains a million concentrated seeds of vanilla, which impart the flavor in the dish. Because it’s so expensive, we don’t waste a thing. The emptied bean will now go into a container of sugar to make vanilla sugar. You can leave it whole, but I whirl it in the blender along with the sugar and it gives the mixture a lovely shade and scent.”
Adding the scrapings to the batter, Lewark whisks everything once again before pouring the mixture into a buttered fry pan he pops into the oven.
“Once it’s puffed up around the edges and golden brown, we can top this pancake with any number of choices. Traditionally, you squeeze a lemon and dust it generously with powdered sugar.”
“That’s my favorite,” Jenny chimes in.
“I like it with strawberries, maple syrup, coconut syrup, or mangos,” says Lewark. “I’m a former pastry chef and I love sweets.”
We sample the pancake while it’s still steaming from the oven, dripping with elegantly flavored strawberry compote and topped with mounds of whipped cream. Tender and rich with the flavor of eggs, it’s as nutritious as it is decadent.
“So, have you made this for your fiancée yet?” I ask.
Chef Lewark smiles. “I’ve been saving that for the honeymoon.”
In honor of Valentine’s Day, Chef chose a topping of bright red, heart-shaped Kula strawberries, but a compote of other berries or mangos is a delicious substitution.