What inspired you to become a pastry chef?
Baking has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Spending time in the kitchen with my grandmother, watching her bake, helping her measure ingredients, and most importantly, licking the spoon, are all very fond and very impressionable memories of mine. I have always been a creative person and expressing myself in various ways is important to me. I studied theatre and dramatic writing in college and graduate school, but after a few years of writing and working in casting, I realized that I found myself spending more time thinking about cookie recipes than what the next line would be in the play I was writing. I began to bring some of my baked goods to various show openings, casting sessions, and industry parties.
Over time, I started a small baking business out of my home. People were telling me that my baked goods were delicious, and slowly, I began to see that same smile on people’s faces when they ate my treats that I saw when I was in the kitchen with my grandmother. The passion that I had put into my writing I was now putting into cakes and cookies and I could not have been happier. Shortly after this time, my Grandmother passed away and that really got me thinking about where things were headed. I decided a great way to honor my grandmother’s legacy would be to take on baking as a full time commitment. Switching careers was one if the biggest decisions that I have ever had to make. But the passion that I bring to my food and the team that I have around me every day makes it all very much worthwhile.
Have any mentors? What have you learned from them?
I have learned a lot from the people that I have worked with in the past and I am learning great things from the people that I work with now. Working at Tribeca Treats with Rachel Thebault was a really great experience on both a professional and personal level. She has really found a balance between creating new desserts, running a successful business, and maintaining a happy life outside of the bakery. To me, balance is everything, and I gained a lot knowledge in this area while working with her.
I really cherish the relationships that I have with other pastry professionals in New York. Bouncing ideas off of each other, lending a helping hand when it’s needed, it’s all really important to me. I think we learn a lot from each other every day.
What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
Almonds, Cranberries, and Black Pepper Rhubarb, Sweet Sorghum, and Sour Cream, Sugar Snap Peas, Greek Yogurt, and Lemon, Bittersweet Chocolate, Passion Fruit, and Jalapeno
Is Craft’s dessert menu constructed and developed by you? How often does it change?
Craft’s dessert menu is separated into two sections. One being Classic Combinations, the other being Seasonal Combinations. The former is comprised of desserts that have become classics at Craft over the past 11 years. These desserts have stood the test of time for very good reason, and our customers love coming back and enjoying these tried and true selections. While the desserts in this section remain mostly unchanged, I get to create the sauces and accompaniments that go along with them. I also create new desserts and play with all sorts of things in the Seasonal Selections on our menu. Craft prides itself on its seasonality, thus I change the selections in this section every few weeks, to a month or two. The same can be said for our house-made ice cream and sorbets. I cherish the fact that I get to change the menu as often as I do. It really helps me keep my creativity flowing, and explore up to the minute flavor combinations featuring some of the stellar ingredients from the Farmer’s Market.
Do you get any or all of your ingredients from local farmer markets?
We get many ingredients from local farmers markets, mostly the Union Square Market. Because of our menu’s seasonality, the amount of ingredients that we use from the markets depends on what time of year it is, and what the purveyors have to offer. Thus during the summer and fall, the majority of our fruits used for desserts come from local farmers. During other parts of the year, we source ingredients from other places. All in all, we try to keep things as local and seasonal as possible.
What advice would you give to young pastry chefs just getting started?
I think we need to differentiate this question between young pastry cooks and new pastry cooks. Myself included, there are a number of people who enter this field who have already had careers in other arenas. For these chosen few, my advice is to stay grounded and humble, and to gain experience from people that you admire and would like to learn from. Much of your skill set from other industries will certainly make its way into your new career, whether its interpersonal skills, number crunching etc, which is great, but you will be starting over in other aspects. This is going to take some getting used to, but keeping the passion alive is what is going to get you up for those early morning shifts, or at work on a Saturday night when all of your friends are out.
For young people entering this field, I would say keep your eyes open, your options broad, and your efforts professional. In working with young cooks, too often I see them working with blinders on, reaching for one specific goal that they had way before they went to pastry school. To me, setting goals too early means you miss a lot of the fun and exciting stuff along the way. Whether you take a job in a restaurant, but you always wanted to make wedding cakes, or vice versa, the skills that you acquire during your first few jobs, externships, stages etc. will only make you more well-rounded and valuable. Plus, these experiences open doors to other opportunities, some that you may not have even thought of on your own.
To me, passion is one of the most important aspects of this industry. It keeps us going no matter if you are just starting out, or many years in.
What are your tips for pastry success?
As a writer, I was told to always keep my ear out for interesting conversations that I overhear, or situations that I might find myself in. I think something similar can be said for working in pastry. I am forever keeping my eyes, nose and taste buds on the prowl for new ideas. And to be honest, I get some of my most interesting ideas in the oddest places, like a flower shop or a toy store. Also, I think it’s important to keep yourself constantly learning new things. Pastry cooks, pastry chefs, we always have something we could learn more about or a technique that is worth trying. Keeping yourself stimulated and curious and is both empowering and invigorating.
On the equipment side, do you have a favorite blender or other piece of equipment that you like to use and makes your job easier?
I really can’t work without having a plastic bowl scraper by my side. In fact, I have too many to count. They can be used for anything from getting rid of air pockets in pastry bags, to getting that last ounce of cookie dough out of a bowl, to creating that perfectly smooth side of icing on a cake. Bowl scrapers really work wonders.
Induction burners are also a really valuable piece of equipment for our department. Maintaining a constant temperature with certain things is crucial for us during dinner service. Our burners really help us out with that. Plus, making ice cream bases have never been quicker!
Looking into your crystal ball… Where will we find you in five years?
I am truly enjoying my time creating new desserts at Craft and I plan to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. However, if I look a bit further into my future, I hope one day to run my own bakery or create a line of ice creams. Creating a well-balanced life with all things sweet is what I am trying to do, and so far, so good.