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Ice Cream With a Michelin Star Chef’s Precise Scientific Touch Brings Houston Desserts to a New Level at Cafe Leonelli

Salvatore Martone Is No Ordinary Pastry Chef

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Sampling the “birthday cake” ice cream flavor at Cafe Leonelli in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, we are wowed by the fact that this ice cream tastes exactly like, well, a Moeller’s wedding cake. How can ice cream taste like cake? The flavor is magical. But as vaunted executive pastry chef Salvatore Martone explains that magic is based on a precise science.

Who knew that ice cream perfection is achieved through exact measurements of ingredients, freezing thresholds, mixing speed and the infusion of air? While we are not going to provide a lesson in the science of ice cream, we will share high points of our conversation with the engaging Martone, executive pastry chef for The Bastion Collection. He is the force behind not only the pastries and ice creams at Cafe Leonelli but also the lavish desserts served at the formal Le Jardinier, also in the MFAH.

Martone spent the month of July in Houston retraining staff, evaluating procedures and service to ensure that the Bastion Collection’s standard of quality is maintained and, most importantly to Houstonians, working on the lunch menu for Le Jardinier, which he says should begin service in September. Perhaps that will take some of the heat off of dinner reservations which have been required six weeks in advance. In addition, Martone worked on new desserts for the fall menu.

The Bastion Collection portfolio includes three Michelin starred restaurants in New York — L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Benno and Le Jardinier, as well as La Table in Houston plus the two MFAH restaurants, and Le Jardinier  and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Miami where Martone inaugurated his ice cream magic with Frohzen, an ice cream shop featuring his whimsical and creative take on frozen desserts.

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Award-winning executive pastry chef Salvatore Martone favors a whimsical approach to his ice creams at Frohzen at Cafe Leonelli in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Frohzen ice cream shop in Miami.

Frohzen’s location in Miami’s design district informed Martone’s vision for his unique creations.

“I was thinking to create an ice cream by design,” he tells PaperCity. “Nobody really does much with ice cream. Normally a popsicle is plain, old school.

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“I thought maybe I can bring some Michelin star design to the ice cream. The look came out from that and the flavor came from my personal preference.”

Perhaps taking a cue from French furniture designer Pierre Paulin‘s obsession with curvature, Martone shares, “I don’t like anything that is square or rectangular. I like everything that is curved and rounded. All my favorite shapes are round spheres.”

Indeed, take a look at the offerings in the modest ice cream case in Cafe Leonelli, which he laments is such a small offering of Frohzen’s full inventory. The popsicles are rounded, the ice cream sandwiches are circular.

“I really like wonky stuff, whimsical things,” Martone says. “When I came to work in the Michelin restaurant,  I found there was a lot of old school stuff, too serious. My idea with dessert is to be very playful. It should be something to bring you joy.”

Cafe Leonelli’s Ice Cream Power

The three cake flavors in Cafe Leonelli are birthday cake (which really is a pure wedding cake flavor), red velvet cake and tres leches. Each is seriously convincing. In all, the MFAH Frohzen offers nine flavors of ice cream and sorbets, four flavors of popsicles (chocolate hazelnut, vanilla fruitti di bosco), and two ice cream sandwiches.

Martone allows that the biggest seller in Houston is ice cream by the scoop. His design is to provide something that is more like a dessert than just ice cream. Scoops whether on a cone or in a cup come automatically with crumble, sprinkles and sauce. There is a selection of five crumbles, five sauces and five sprinkles in the case.

“This makes it taste more like dessert,” Martone explains.

Martone is a widely respected force in the restaurant world with a host of accolades earned throughout his career, including winning the 3rd Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition in 2012, being named one of the Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional in 2015, receiving a James Beard Award nomination for Best Pastry Chef in 2015, and most recently, winning the “Sugary Showpieces” competition on Chopped Sweets on the Food Network in September 2020.

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