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For Bernard Bouissou, nothing says fall more than decadent pumpkin cheesecake with pumpkin seed brittle. “I’m inspired by all the autumn produce. They didn’t really have pumpkins in the south of France, so I love working with them,” says the native Frenchman and owner and executive chef of Bernard’s in Ridgefield.

Bouissou plans his French-focused menu by following the seasons and utilizing fresh, local ingredients. In 2012, he created a large vegetable garden on the property alongside the restaurant, featuring 28 raised beds, as well as apple, peach and pear trees, and an herb garden. He grows more than half the produce served at the restaurant. “I’m the type of chef who likes to speak with our farmers and vendors to ask them about what they have that is really great right now or if there is something new on the market. Local is something that influences what I do.”

Raised in Saint-Étienne-de-Tulmont in southern France, Bouissou began his culinary career at age 13 in the tradition of many great European chefs who embark on apprenticeships at a young age. Upon moving stateside in 1984, Bouissou worked under noted chef Daniel Boulud at Plaza Athénée and Le Cirque restaurants in New York City, then became sous chef at Le Cygne, a banquet chef at Tavern on the Green, and executive chef at La Panetiere in Rye, New York. Bouissou and his wife, Sarah, opened Bernard’s in March 2000. Sarah runs her eponymous wine bar upstairs.

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“I grew up in the southwest of France, one of 10 kids,” says Bouissou, who describes his cooking style as contemporary French with Italian and American influences. “We pretty much grew everything we ate. My uncle had a farm across the street with cows, pigs, sheep and chickens, so every year we would get a large pig and make all sorts of charcuterie, sausage and head cheese. We raised ducks and rabbits and my father hunted.” Thus began Bouissou’s culinary philosophy of using what you have and not wasting anything.

From an early age, he helped his mother in the kitchen. “At the age of 11 my parents asked what I wanted to do with my life. Since I always enjoyed being in the kitchen, I went off to culinary school,” he says. “After a couple of years working in Europe, I had the opportunity to come to the United States to work for Daniel Boulud. I always wanted to explore other countries, so this was a perfect opportunity.”

When Bouissou arrived in the U.S., he did not speak English, but came with a good work ethic and a love of cooking. “Two years later I met my wife, Sarah, also a chef at Le Cirque. Before we got married we moved out to Seattle to experience their food culture for a year, which was fabulous; however, we decided that Connecticut was where we wanted to make our home.”

Pumpkin cheesecake with pumpkin seed brittle

Yield: 10-12 servings  •  Time: 1 hour

CRUST INGREDIENTS:

  •  2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  •  ½ cup honey
  •  ¼ cup melted butter
  •  1½ tablespoons ground ginger

FILLING INGREDIENTS:

  •  1½ pounds cream cheese
  •  2½ cups pumpkin purée
  •  1 cup sugar
  •  4 egg yolks
  •  2 whole eggs
  •  1½ tablespoons crème fraîche
  •  1¼ cups heavy cream
  •  ½ teaspoon vanilla
  •  1 teaspoon ginger powder
  •  2 teaspoons cinnamon
  •  ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  •  ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  •  ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  •  Juice of 1 lemon

MAKE THE CRUST

Mix all crust ingredients together, except the melted butter, by hand until incorporated.

Pour in the melted butter. Continue to mix by hand until all incorporated and able to pack.

Line an 8-inch springform cake pan with parchment paper on the bottom and spray it with cooking spray.

Pour crust ingredients in pan and pack down to about quarter-inch thickness.

Cook at 300 degrees for 6 minutes until golden brown, then remove the crust from the oven and let cool a few minutes until able to touch.

MAKE THE FILLING

While the crust is cooling, mix all cheesecake ingredients together, except the egg yolks and whole eggs, in a large stand mixer at medium high until smooth.

Add eggs and yolks, one at time, and mix until smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Set aside.

FINISH THE CAKE

Line the sides of the crust pan with more parchment and spray with cooking spray.

Pour batter inside and bake at 225 degrees for 40-50 minutes until center is solid. Tap the sides of the pan — if the mixture is still very shaky, it is not cooked enough.

Chill the cheesecake 2-3 hours or overnight.


CINNAMON WHIPPED CREAM

  •   2 cups heavy cream 
  •  ¼ cup sugar
  •  ½ teaspoon vanilla 
  •  1½ teaspoons cinnamon 

Pour heavy cream into a chilled bowl and beat on medium speed until thickened.

Add sugar, vanilla and cinnamon; increase speed to medium high until still peaks form.

Chill until ready to serve.


PUMPKIN SEED BRITTLE

  •  1 cup sugar
  •  ½ cup light corn syrup
  •  ¼ teaspoon salt
  •  ¼ cup water
  •  1 cup pumpkin seeds
  •  2 tablespoons softened butter
  •  1 teaspoon baking soda

Grease a large cookie sheet and set aside.

In a heavy, 2-quart saucepan, over medium heat, bring to a boil sugar, corn syrup, salt and water, stir with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved and all incorporated.

Stir in pumpkin seeds. Set a candy thermometer in place and continue cooking, stirring frequently until the temperature reaches 300 degrees or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into hard and brittle threads.

Remove pan from heat and immediately stir in butter and baking soda, then pour the mixture all at once onto the prepared cookie sheet.

With two forks sprayed with cooking spray, lift and pull the brittle mixture into a rectangle about 14 by 12 inches. Cool and snap into pieces.


PRESENTATION

After the cheesecake is chilled, remove from the pan and place cake on cake plate. Pipe swirls of cinnamon whipped cream around the top of the cheesecake and garnish each swirl with a piece of the brittle.


This article appeared in the November 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine.You can can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here.

Pamela Brown is a former English professor, a prolific freelance writer, and author of Faithful Love, her first novel that inspired a love of writing. She resides in Connecticut with her daughter, Alexis, who makes her life an adventure.