As part of this season’s holiday festivities at the Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale, pastry chef Carlos Salazar and his team are preparing a gingerbread house for the hotel lobby that’s destined to become a social media sensation. Given the philosophy that’s guided his culinary career, it’s no surprise that Salazar is looking forward to erecting the 192-square-foot main sculpture, one that requires some 2,000 pounds of flour and days to assemble.
“I’ve always been attracted to jobs that were the most difficult,” says the Miami-Dade College graduate.
His success in handling high-pressure, high-stakes jobs—like overseeing the mammoth pastry operations at the Bellagio, MGM Grand and Caesars Palace during his nearly two-decade-long run in Las Vegas—has earned Salazar’s national renown in dessert circles.
“My [Vegas years] allowed me to gain experience on an entirely different level—and not just dealing with [high volume],” says Salazar, who adds that he was making desserts for 15 restaurants at the same time at one point in Vegas. “It also was about doing quality work. It gave me a chance to prove how far I could go in this industry.”
With his mother turning 90, Salazar felt the time was right to return to his South Florida roots, which included a four-year stint at the old Grand Bay hotel in Miami during the late 1980s. It also fulfilled his goal of one day working for a Ritz-Carlton property.
At the Ritz in Fort Lauderdale, where Salazar has been since April, the executive pastry chef oversees a team of eight that handles dessert duties for all dining-related aspects of the resort, including banquets, the poolside café and Burlock Coast, the much-buzzed-about restaurant led by Paula DaSilva.
In complementing the ambience and farm-fresh fare at Burlock Coast, Salazar says that his pastry strategy involved presentations that play off the restaurant’s rustic look (think dishes served on woods and antique trays). Most important, he wanted desserts that didn’t leave customers scratching their heads.
“Sometimes, you’ll go to a fancy restaurant and the dessert looks beautiful, but people still go, ‘What is it?’ ” he says. “Our desserts here are very friendly, very eye-catching—and easy to recognize.”
They’re also delicious. Salazar did a deep-dive on a few of the favorites.
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Looks are deceiving: Yes, the chocolate cake at Burlock Coast (pictured) screams decadence. And, sure, the mousse sandwiched between its layers is a dream mix of dark and milk chocolates (the ganache has more dark chocolate, along with cream). But, hey, there’s no flour in the gluten-free cake. “So, people can eat a lot of it and not feel guilty,” Salazar says.
Breaking bread: Salazar made croissant pudding for the tasting that accompanied his interview process. “I think that [dessert] got me hired,” he says. “They fell in love with it.” In addition to going heavy on the cream and including white chocolate and pineapple compote, the chef uses fresh croissants instead of day-old bread to give it an absurdly buttery flavor.
Something special: Just in time for the holidays, Salazar has added two “wintry” desserts to the offerings at Burlock Coast—white chocolate panna cotta and a chocolate mousse dome. Expect more of these bonus treats throughout the year, similar to the bourbon pecan pie created to complement a bourbon promotion at the restaurant.
The key to Key lime: Salazar says patrons “go crazy” over his Key lime pie, which features a crispy graham cracker crust, torched meringue on top—and a creamy core composed of condensed milk, egg yolks and fresh, authentic Key lime juice.