A Royal Treat – Pastry Chef Sam Nahhas Creates Sweets Fit For A Queen

WHITPAIN – Blue Bell pastry chef Sam Nahhas’ tiramisu and Black Forest trifles didn’t make global headlines like those who hailed Jemma Melvin’s lemon-amaretti trifle, named ‘Platinum Jubilee Pudding’ during celebrations marking Queen Elizabeth’s 70th birthday as British monarch this month.

That said, Nahhas sweets show up at The Farmer’s Daughter and Blue Bell Country Club dining venues – and for the many weddings, conferences, corporate meetings, golf outings and special events that take place at the venues each year. du Normandy Farm Hotel & Conference Center – round – regularly scores rave reviews well beyond the center of Montco.

The Nahhas repertoire is eclectic and extensive, but each entree starts with local ingredients and seasonal produce “whenever possible”. On the other hand, the wizard behind the confectionery magic is far from homegrown. Nahhas grew up in Jordan – in the ancient city of Madaba – about 30 km south of Amman, the country’s capital. Madaba is also world famous for its exquisite mosaics. However, it was a small neighborhood bakery that energized Nahhas’ early artistic sensibilities.

“I used to walk past the bakery and smell all the good smells and see all the beautiful designs they were doing there, and that inspired me…to look all the time to see what was new, how they did it, how they changed things, their presentation,” he says. “I was always watching what they were doing there. When I was growing up, I tried to do something else, but it’s always been in my imagination that I wanted to be a pastry chef.

Sam Nahhas’ range runs the gamut, from berry bread pudding to triple chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream and dark chocolate ganache, strawberry cracker profiteroles, citrus tarts with honey meringue, lemon sponge cake, pineapple with pineapple mousse and creamy cherry and artisanal batches of homemade gelato, sorbets and ice cream. (Photo courtesy of Normandy Farm Hotel and Conference Center)

The back and forth between “something else” and the imaginations of Nahhas pastry pros played out during hotel management courses in Amman.

“When you study hotel management, they take you through all the different departments, but when I went to the pastry department, it took all my attention,” he recalls. “I knew it was what I wanted to do in life and I took it very seriously. I did my internship in a Radisson hotel in Amman, one of the biggest hotels in Jordan. I worked hard, and they hired me after my clerkship to work for them full time…and pretty soon I started getting promotions. Then Le Royal Hotel opened in Amman, and I went there and stayed there for three years.

During this period, Nahhas became a regular at Jordanian culinary competitions and won top honors at the prestigious 2005 Pastry World Cup in Lyon, France. When he moved to the United States 12 years ago, his resume also included professional stints in France, Bahrain and Dubai. He was named Executive Pastry Chef of the Normandy Farm Resort in 2016 after serving in Washington DC area roles and being recognized as Pastry Chef of the Year by the Culinary Federation of America. In 2019, her talents scored “Best of the Main Line for Dessert Selection” for The Farmer’s Daughter.

Along the way, Nahhas has continually honed his ability to read a dining room and blend the art and science of his craft to please the crowd.

“For example, people like it when you convert old desserts into new desserts,” he says. “Like, for example, an apple cobbler or an apple pie. How we can be creative but also follow tradition. How we can deconstruct apple cobbler or apple pie but turn it into a fancy meal. People remember their grandmother making this dessert and they loved it. So the trick is to make the presentation spectacular but make it taste like grandma’s apple pie.

That kind of insight is key to its staff’s ability to invent so many gluten-free and nut-free desserts that taste “delicious” rather than healthy. And that, says Nahhas, comes down to “using the best ingredients, always in season… picking the apples, peaches or pears myself from a local farm, where I personally go.”

Also key: “Working as a team”.

This dessert includes a delicious macaroon.  (Photo courtesy of Normandy Farm Hotel and Conference Center)
This dessert includes a delicious macaron. (Photo courtesy of Normandy Farm Hotel and Conference Center)

“For example, when we make a plated dessert, everyone is part of it,” says Nahhas. “We put, maybe, 10 different plates on the table, and all of us start designing the plate. Sometimes it’s my opinion, and sometimes someone else on the team comes up with the best presentation. My team is made up of seven people, and everyone has a contribution, a vision. Sometimes we change a plate 10 or 15 times to make it a special dessert that we are all proud of. Sometimes we even change it at the last minute because you think it could be better…even more delicious.And sometimes you can end up thinking ‘ok, we’re not going to finish it today…we’ll think about it and we’ll finish it tomorrow.

“We all inspire each other. It’s like a football team. Everyone’s position is important. And it’s not just us. I always say we can make the best plate, but it takes everyone…from the dishwasher cleaning the plates and from the housekeeping cleaning the napkins to the best waiter…doing their job, to make people happy with the food . We are all a circle…a team.

The aesthetic of Nahhas is also shaped by the geography of this region.

“It’s such a green and beautiful state,” he says. “Flowers, trees, streams, rivers… they all inspire me. You can’t take your eyes off the road, looking at all the beautiful trees, landscaping…everything. When I’m driving along the road, that’s probably my happiest moment. The sky, all the green, the stars, the sun, a rainbow… everything is so beautiful.

At press time, Nahhas’ appreciation for the Pennsylvania landscape had spawned a range from berry bread pudding to triple chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream and dark chocolate ganache, strawberry cracker profiteroles , citrus tarts with honey meringue, pineapple sponge cake with pineapple mousse and creamy cherry and artisanal batches of ice cream, sorbets and homemade ice cream. Her favorite dessert?

“I love the mille-feuille,” he says. “Any bakery I go to that has one, I buy one for myself. It’s so delicious. You have the crispy sugar, the caramelized top, the pastry cream, the puff pastry. Yeah, I really like that.

Nahhas never questioned his career choice.

Another delicious dessert offering from Sam Nahhas.  (Photo courtesy of Normandy Farm Hotel and Conference Center)
Another delicious dessert offering from Sam Nahhas. (Photo courtesy of Normandy Farm Hotel and Conference Center)

“You ask me, could I have imagined the success I had when I was a kid,” he says. “Yes. Absolutely. As they say, eyes to the sky. Use every excuse to succeed, not every excuse to fail…to fail. That’s how I think. I wake up every day and think It’s going to be a beautiful day. Why? Because it’s sunny. Why? Because it’s raining, because it’s sunny. I’m going to have fun. It’s going to be a great day. I watch every day and I think it will be one of the best days of my life.

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