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CHEF DU JOUR

Lime Fills Tart Torte With Taste

August 19, 1993|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition

To Aime Desponds, it doesn't necessarily pay to advertise.

The Swiss-born Desponds has been cooking for eight years at the Nieuport 17 restaurant in Tustin, and his creations have seldom appeared on the menu.

Regular customers ask for his dishes, though, because Desponds is the chef in charge of the daily specials featured throughout the week.

In addition to those entrees, about every three days Desponds whips up a dessert specialty, the tricky but strikingly memorable lime mousse torte, which he says is more European than the standard desserts on the menu.

He should know. The son of a chef who ran his own restaurant in Lausanne, Switzerland, Desponds got his early training in his father's kitchen where, he said, the cuisine was the hybrid French-Italian common to southern Switzerland.

However, his father urged him not to be a chef, but a mechanical engineer, and Desponds spent three years at a technical school. After graduating, he worked for three years as a turbine boiler specialist.

But, he said, "I was always thinking about cooking. I didn't know at the time that it would be the love of my life."

He was nudged back into the restaurant business by an uncle who owned a Swiss restaurant in Mexico City and needed a chef. When he asked his nephew if he'd like the job, Desponds left engineering for good and went to Mexico.

That was the beginning of an 18-year stint in Mexico, both at his uncle's restaurant and, about 10 years ago, at a small hotel in Xihuatanejo. It was at the tropical resort that Bill Bettis, owner of Nieuport 17, spent a week's vacation and offered him a job at his restaurant in California, Desponds said.

The 53-year-old Desponds, who lives in Santa Ana, lends a European presence to the Nieuport 17 kitchen and puts a European imprint on his lime mousse torte. Light and very tangy--there's no mistaking the fruit--the torte reflects the European tradition of lighter weight but highly flavorful desserts. Putting it together, Desponds said, requires vigilance.

"It's not very easy," he said. "You have to be precise in everything you do. It's delicate, and there's no flour or cornstarch in the filling. It's like a souffle. "

Desponds recommends using a two-piece pie pan with a removable bottom. This allows the part of the pan surrounding the torte to be removed without crumbling the crust.

LIME MOUSSE TORTE

7/8 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsalted butter

pinch of salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine and let rest 4 hours in refrigerator. Then roll out dough to fit 10-inch pie pan. Line bottom of pan with aluminum foil cut to same diameter as bottom of pan. Fit dough into pan and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and bake another 5 minutes.

Mousse

4 egg yolks

3/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup soft butter at room temperature

1/2 cup lime juice

3 egg whites

pinch of salt

2 tablespoons sugar

powdered sugar

In a bowl over simmering water, beat egg yolks and sugar with electric hand mixer until mixture is very light, about 3 minutes. With the mixer running, add soft butter one piece at a time. Beat another 3 minutes. Add lime juice and beat another 4 minutes.

In copper bowl, beat egg whites with pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. With mixer running, add 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Using rubber spatula, fold egg whites into lime cream. Fill shell with lime mousse. Bake at 500 degrees for 4 to 5 minutes. Sift powdered sugar over top.

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