I Make Legendary “Bencakes”?

When I returned to the Agrihotel Elisabetta on July 15 for the second time, I expected to learn how to cook more traditional Tuscan and Italian dishes. I dreamed of being given the privilege of working during service hours this summer, cooking orders of pasta for people on the spot. I did not expect my dream to come true…. in such an unexpected manner.

My short and sweet "Bencake" story.

My short and sweet “Bencake” story.

6:30 am at the Agrihotel. The hotel is so large that it is difficult to capture a single image to represent the establishment. I'll just show  the pool.

6:30 am at the Agrihotel. The hotel is so large that it is difficult to capture a single image to represent the establishment. Therefore, I’ll just show you the pool for now.

 

Head Chef Leonardo Brunetti, my main instructor in the kitchen of the three-star hotel farm, asked me on my third day at work if I knew how to make pancakes. Immediately recognizing an opportunity to make a dish on my own, I said yes. He said, “Great! You are to make pancakes for tomorrow morning’s buffet breakfast.” That’s when I remembered that I don’t make pancakes every Sunday morning like a good American should, and I don’t have my own recipe for them either.

Leonardo and I, accompanied by a set of "Bencakes".

Leonardo and I, accompanied by a set of “Bencakes”.

So, after the night service, I whipped up my own recipe for lemon-ricotta pancakes alone in the kitchen of the Agrihotel. I made a rasberry-mint sauce using the small marmalade packages (like the ones that the bagel store gives you when you order a peanut butter and jelly bagel) that the Agrihotel offers with the breakfast buffet. I took a large box of what must have been 200 of those small jam packages, and opened each one individually until the box was empty, and my pot was full. Then, I set out making the pancakes. I made half with “frutti di bosco” (fruits of the woods, which consists of a mixture of berries) inside, and half plain.

Making pancakes after night service in the Agrihotel kitchen.

Making pancakes after night service in the Agrihotel kitchen.

Agrihotel Pancake Cooking

The next day, to the delight and surprise of many guests whom had never ‘seen anything like this at the Agrihotel before’, I set up shop with my warm pancakes. Chef Leonardo was very pleased. After morning service, he came over to me carrying two electric stovetops, and a set of plastic containers. Handing me a shiny new pan, he told me that I was to prepare pancakes and eggs “mise en place” every morning for the rest of my life. And that’s it. Complete with my own stovetop, set of containers, pans, and a walk-in-refrigerator full of ingredients at my disposal, I was out on my own in the Tuscan gastronomical haze.

My first day serving pancakes at the Agrihotel.

My first day serving pancakes at the Agrihotel.

I served the lemon ricotta pancakes with the raspberry sauce, hazelnut, mint, and powdered sugar.

I served the lemon ricotta pancakes with the raspberry sauce, hazelnut, mint, and powdered sugar.

 

I always found pancakes to be boring. A fluffy cake that tastes like nothing drowned in sugary liquid? Hmmm… little exciting there. It seemed like making the same ol’ pancakes and omelettes for the entire summer could get boring. So, I started foraging for interesting ingredients in the pantry to make my pancakes with. Below are some of the classy combinations I came up with.

Preparing pancakes and eggs alla "mise en place".

Preparing pancakes and eggs alla “mise en place”. I have the BenGusto apron on because my Agrihotel apron was in the wash. Plus, I think this apron looks nicer.

 

"Bencake Pools"

“Bencake Pools”

The "Degustazione dei Bencake". The "Tasting of the Bencake".

The “Degustazione dei Bencake”. The “Tasting of the Bencake”.

This soon became on my most popular creations because of its artistic look. Bencake with mixture of fruits. I always used what was in season, and on hand. Here we have banana, peach, apple, frutti di bosco, and fig.

This soon became on my most popular creations because of its artistic look. Bencake with mixture of fruits. I always used what was in season, and on hand. Here we have banana, peach, apple, frutti di bosco, housemade red prune marmalade, and fig.

This was an experiment which looked cool, but wasn't so great to eat. I never served the "Ripped Bencake".

This was an experiment which looked cool, but wasn’t so great to eat. I never served the “Ripped Bencake”.

 

A German inspiration. The combination of chocolate and apple in Germany is popular, so I put it in a pancake (with a slice of apricot and a drizzle of maple syrup).

A German inspiration. The combination of chocolate and apple in Germany is popular, so I put it in a pancake (with a slice of apricot and a drizzle of maple syrup).

 

My good friend and colleague, Léon, made a “Bencakes” sign for me. Guests and staff alike started calling me “Bencakes”. I suppose the name fits. After all, they were pancakes made with buon gusto, nothing average.

 

Léon snapped a photo right as a "Bencake" flipped in the air. Fantastic!

Léon snapped a photo right as a “Bencake” flipped in the air. Fantastic!

There was one young boy from England who came up to me and asked for a pancake with sugar and lemon. I thought about putting lemon zest in the pancake, and then dusting it with powdered sugar. No, that would be too boring. I ran into the guest buffet inside, cut the line, and scraped together some ricotta, mascarpone, and honey. Together with the lemon I made a cream for the client to go with his pancake. Seeing the boy’s face, full of excitement and shock, was incredible. He was speechless. I’d say that was the height of my ‘bencake’ career.

Three Beauties Bencakes Agrihotel

The most interesting order I got the entire summer? There was one Italian biker that stayed for a few days, and ordered an omelette filled with frutti di bosco every morning. I always meant to give it a try, but in the end I forgot!

After a month full of Bencake fun, I left the Agrihotel with a tearful goodbye, handing my spatula over to a young assistant chef named Francesco. I left my secret BenGusto™ recipe (which I might share online in the near future) with him to carry on the legend, but guests still let me know that their pancakes were not being served with…. well, the same passion. Little decoration. Less creativity. At the end of the day, you need passion to serve a true Bencake.

Cooking Bencakes Agrihotel

 

5 responses on “I Make Legendary “Bencakes”?

  1. This had to be the “email/blog” we had been anticipating this summer. What fun! What originality! What an amazing young chef you are! We are “sharing” this with so many who have heard “rave reviews’ from us for a long time. Always nice to get “home”…but it HAD to be hard for you to leave!

    • Thank you, Mrs. and Mr. Johnson! Yes, it was very difficult for me to leave, especially since I had developed a beautiful working system. I would return in a snap. As always, I love to hear your comments of support, and I really appreciate the “rave reviews” you give for BenGusto!
      -Ben

  2. Ben you are amazing. Lucky the owner and the clients of the agriturismo that they had you there for a whole month! You must have left an incredibly empty void behind you.
    Compliments to the Chef!!!
    An admirer.

Comments are wonderful!