Sampling Stephanie’s recent creations at an event, Susan Robbins, C-CAP’s President, noted, “Stephanie has tremendous talent and for those who don’t recognize women as Gods of the Food Industry, they should stop by the Ritz Carlton Central Park to see this rising star.”
Stephanie Grajales began her career working with Chef Walter Pledner at The Marriott World Trade Center until September 2001, one day before 9/11. Even though she wasn’t assigned to work that day, 9/11 was a turning point for her. She considered leaving New York City; instead, she moved uptown to The Ritz Carlton for a pastry position in its restaurant Atelier, thanks to former Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Francois Bonnet. She trained with Pastry Chef Eric Hubert, renewed her passion for pastry, and found a new culinary home in New York. These days at the Ritz Carlton, she works alongside and learns from Pastry Chef Anthony D’Adamo and Executive Chef Mark Arnao.
When the Ritz Carlton Central Park hotel is all dressed up for the holidays in December, the lobby is the site of a gorgeous architectural display of gingerbread and candy houses made by C-CAP’s own Stephanie Grajales. Grajales is a Pastry Chef at The Ritz Carlton Central Park South in New York City where she creates pastries, wedding cakes and specialty items for Auden Bistro & Bar, the Star Lounge, banquets and room service. Always eager to appeal to all the senses, Grajales recently showcased new chocolate desserts for Wine and Chocolate Flight pairings in an exclusive “Like Wine for Chocolate” event with Marika Vida, the hotel’s Wine Director.
She grew up in Brooklyn, participating in C-CAP at John Dewey High School under the tutelage of Reesa Levy, one of the founding teachers in the C-CAP program. She competed in the C-CAP New York Cooking Competition for Scholarships and was awarded a $40,000 scholarship to Johnson & Wales University where she earned her Associates Degree. Grajales continues to participate in C-CAP events including the Junior Benefit at Marcus Samuelsson’s Ginny’s at Red Rooster and the gala grand tasting Benefit at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers. This spring, she will take her place on the other side of the clipboard as a judge at the C-CAP New York Cooking Competition for Scholarships, the same competition that jumpstarted her own career in pastry.
What is the hardest dish to make on the Auden Bistro & Bar menu right now and how did you master it?
I wouldn't consider any of our desserts too hard to make. The most challenging to perfect was our steamed orange cake. It took several times to be able to achieve the right ingredients, flavor, texture, and cooking method. It’s all trial and error.
What are the biggest challenges of working at a high-end, high volume hotel and restaurant such as Auden Bistro & Bar at the Ritz-Carlton Central Park?
The biggest challenge for me is time management. We have several other food outlets in the hotel, so being able to juggle all areas and our restaurant can be crazy at times.
What are the biggest perks?
I am very fortunate to work for a company that offers many perks: some being great pay, the ability to stay at many company hotels all around the world, and the limitless ability to grow and learn in my field.
What is a flavor or ingredient that you think doesn’t get enough play these days?
I always have loved Verbena. It's so fragrant and refreshing.
What is your favorite dessert of all-time, comfort food included?
My favorite dessert is guava-filled cake with Swiss meringue. You can find them only at Dominican bakeries. It's one of those desserts that is utterly irresistible to me. Simple and sweet, I have yet to master that recipe.
“It's really important to take pride in your craft. If you love what you do you will never truly have to work a day in your life. It's the most amazing feeling to be able to create lifetime memories with a single bite. Ultimately your work is a reflection of yourself. Create with love and passion.”
Interview conducted by Joyce Appelman, Director of Communications at C-CAP in New York, NY