Chef Sean Shin ’14 Shares his Pastry Skills and Spreads Happiness

A truly magical Sunday was spent in the Gibbons’ kitchen with Abbey grad Sean Shin, currently Chef de Partie at the Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park in New York. He generously took vacation time to show the Culinary Arts Club some of his pastry skills while creating truly beautiful and delicious desserts. One could not be anything but impressed with his talent, humility, passion, and kindness. We are so proud of our own Sean Shin!

Chef Shin is an inspiration to anyone he encounters. In an industry that’s as competitive as food, it would be easy to get lost and give up or even turn sour. Chef Shin has done nothing of the sort. Instead, he has kept his motivation the same for a number of years and worked his way up the food chain (no pun intended) in a wholesome way. He hopes that he’ll be able to up the ‘happiness level’ of the person he encounters whether it’s by way of his mouth-watering food or his bright smile and kind words. He believes that if he is able to make that one person happy, a chain reaction will be started. That happy person will make the next person happy, and then the next until the whole world is happier, even if just a little bit. It only takes one. Seeing Chef Shin work in the kitchen and talk about his experiences in the professional world is unforgettable. While I’m not passionate about food in the same way, his passion made me want to chase my dreams even harder while keeping the same grace, poise and kindness he carries with him. I will be sure to visit Eleven Madison in New York if I ever get the chance. And who knows, maybe I’ll make my server a little happier when I’m there. –Abby Gibbons ‘19

Chef Shin’s philosophy of why he creates the food he does stood out to me. He wants to start a chain of happiness that travels beyond just the food he creates and leave a more lasting impact on everyone. He believes that if someone comes into the restaurant with a happiness level of fifty percent, he wants them to leave even happier and spread that happiness to the next person they interact with. This then makes that person happier and hopefully makes their day better and then they can continue to spread that happiness to the next person. If this chain keeps going everyone will eventually be happier. He also said that he thinks that sleep is crucial to being creative and suggest it to be better to go to sleep rather than wrack your brain for a new idea. Each of the three desserts presented new techniques and ideas to me of how to take an older idea and reinvent it. Chef Shin also suggested making sure to get adequate sleep if at all possible.

The strawberry pistachio tart took a seemingly simple tart shell, strawberries, cream, and gold, and elevated them to complement each other and work together. The chocolate sponge cake was layered with a whipped ganache and topped with a hazelnut, gold leaf, and a dehydrated crumb cookie. For the vanilla sponge cake, the marshmallow with pine nuts added a new dense yet airy texture to the cake.  –Elise Banderob ‘19

Experiencing and watching Chef Sean prepare three desserts was eye-opening to the professional restaurant world. He told us his story from when he graduated from Portsmouth Abbey to his path to becoming a chef at Eleven Madison Park. His work ethic inspires me to work hard at the things that I am passionate about. The movements of a professional chef from a lucrative restaurant is nothing like you have ever seen, Sean was super efficient in his work and even though he said that his work was not as good as usual and casual, each dessert was beautiful. Each ingredient he used was labor-intensive. 

He made a barley cream by roasting and dehydrating barley before rehydrating the barley with milk. The result was a custard like cream that tastes like coffee. The barley cream was incorporated into his version of a tiramisu; layers of sponge with cream and roasted pine nut marshmallows. He also made a strawberry pistachio tart. The tart crust was made with both a regular crust and a layer of almond paste, which was something I had never thought about doing before. The chocolate cake was beautifully presented with bits of gold leaf on top. I usually do not like whipped ganaches, but his was a much thinner consistency than others. He grated in fresh cacao into the ganache rather than cocoa powder or chocolate which was interesting.—India Roemlein ‘19

Chef Shin presented us his procedure of making fancy and delicious desserts, which he called “home – cooking.” He talked about his determination to perfecting his career and shared his philosophy in cooking. I was impressed by his wish to boost the “happy level” of everyone, especially strangers, by his bright smile and positive energy, and so people can pass this happiness to each other. Moreover, he devotes himself to cooking and sacrifices his vacation and resting time in order to invent new recipes as well as to improve the flavors of his old recipes. He also combines his childhood memories and Korean dessert to Western dishes, which makes his desserts more unique and delicious. He was really precise when mixing ingredients for really small components of the whole dish: the cream, the nutty caramel sauce, the marshmallow, etc. I had a glance at his notebook, and it was well-organized and detailed with sketches. He advised us to take notes of inspiration and thoughts all the times and review them and maybe one day they will become really helpful. —Sylvie Qiu ‘19

Chef Shin prepares three desserts for us. The first one is a two-layer sponge cake with barley butter in between. The barley butter filling offers an interesting texture, differing greatly from traditional frosting. The chocolaty rice flakes brushed on the side, combined with the grainy, chewy bite, completes the flavor of this unique cake. The second dessert is another sponge cake. Instead of flakes on the side, Shin mixes the chocolate flavor into the cake itself. He also decorates the cake with toasted hazelnuts and tops it off with edible gold foil (“home-cooking” according to him). The third one, also my personal favorite, is a strawberry pistachio tart. Not only is the tart delicious, but the efforts behind are also admirable. Originally, Shin plans to finish in 10 minutes. However, the tart has two layers and just the strawberries have three different cuttings: Trimmed, halved and diced. Every little detail in Shin’s dessert shows how much of a perfectionist he is and the level of dedication he puts into his work out of passion. —Peter Liu ‘19

The techniques and gentleness that Sean used when preparing the desserts was extremely satisfying to watch. Each step he took into consideration, taking his time to make sure that each element was placed eloquently on the plate. The final products left my mouth watering as I was struggling to stay concentrated after they were complete and we were waiting to indulge in them. Overall, I anticipated that the strawberry tart would be my favorite, and it was even better than I imagined. I’m not sure I’m ever going to enjoy dessert as much as I did this past Sunday.

            Listening to Sean answer the questions that were asked was truly inspiring, especially since you could understand the commitment and love he had for cooking. The way he explained his journey through college and working at Eleven Madison made me want to discover what exactly I want to do when I’m older. He made me want to find something in my future that would make me just as passionate as he was about cooking. –Maddie Burt ‘19

Chef Shin provided an incredibly cool insight into the depth behind the traditional restaurant experience. For most people, dining and food-source (or more specifically, chef-intent) seems relatively disconnected. I don’t remember the last time I went to a restaurant and took time to contemplate the philosophy of the chef! Chef Shin, however, reestablished the depth of intent behind in-restaurant dining experiences that I’ve previously failed to acknowledge. –Megan Behnke ‘19

This Culinary Arts Club outing served as a reminder of the almost forgotten fact that following your dreams ultimately allows you to achieve something beautiful and, in this case, delicious. Each instance Sean Shin moved worked towards the completion of his goal in creating his pastries during our time with him. These purposeful movements seemed to serve as one of the many outward reflections of his determination and ambitions. Not only was the food delicious, and the experience great, it also served as inspiration for Culinary Arts Club members to follow their dreams, and work towards their goals with all they have.—Mia Wright ‘19