Shuna Lydon Brings Sweets to 10 Downing Restaurant

Shuna Lydon

Shuna Lydon was most recently the pastry chef at 10 Downing restaurant in Greenwich Village where she created unique desserts, breads and pastries, garnering notable press on Tasting Table NY in March 2010: “Sweet Relief, A Pastry Genius Touches Down at 10 Downing.”  Lydon’s work has also earned attention from Gourmet magazine, San Francisco magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle and was featured by Amanda Hesser in the New York Times, July 2008 Sunday Magazine column “Recipe Redux.”

Today, Shuna Lydon brings her unique touch to Peels, creating new spins on time-honored favorites.What inspired you to become a pastry chef rather than a savory cook? Where did you study culinary arts?
I started out ‘on the line’ as a savory cook and moved to pastry after about two years. I had an interest in the pastry department where I was cooking and pestered the pastry chef incessantly until she hired me on as a plater a few times a week. I would go in on my days off to learn production and after that restaurant I continued on in pastry departments. I was more excited about baking than I was line cooking. All my training in the culinary arts has been on-the-job. All my learning has been trial-by-fire.

Have any mentors? What have you learned from them?
There are chefs who have inspired and continue to inspire me in my career, yes. Inspirationalists are not the same as mentors though. As a mentor myself I take mentorship more seriously. Mentors give advice and watch and guide you through your trajectory. My first mentor was Eric Ziebold {CityZen, Washington DC}. He taught me how to manage. I learned that to manage effectively I had to find and create my own ‘management style.’ He said, “You have to make sure you can go to sleep with yourself at night. You can’t copy someone else’s style—it might not suit you.” I learned to channel all my best and favorite chefs’ methods and create my own.

What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
Mastic, rosewater, cardamom & pistachio
orange, caraway, pecan, cumin & burnt honey
chestnut, pear, caramel, toasted flour & bee pollen
fennel, lemon, mandarinquat, young dates, coriander & olive oil

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Is the Peels dessert menu constructed and developed by you? How often does it change?
I run a small bakery, soda fountain and plated dessert program at Peels. I also work closely with our bar managress to create inventive cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks. I am the sole author of the dessert program at Peels and we make 4 major seasonal menu changes a year, although I will often change it up in the bakery more often for holidays.

Do you get any or all of your ingredients from local farmer markets?

We buy as much as we can though local Tri-State farmers and go to the Greenmarket regularly. We run a whole animal program at Peels and also buy fresh-kill chickens. We do not buy any seafood on the endangered list. All our eggs are free-range and there is no corn syrup in any of my desserts.

What advice would you give to young pastry chefs just getting started?
Do you mean pastry cooks and assistants? I don’t believe in rushing into being a chef at a young age. I worked my way up and was an assistant for many years, to incredible pastry chefs, before becoming a pastry chef myself. For new pastry people just entering the field I say: Have enough money saved up to make minimum wage for the first five years. Read. Read books, magazines, and blogs. Show up early and volunteer to stay late. Become the team player everyone wants to work alongside. Ask questions! Never think you know more than your chef, but if you truly think you do, move to find a chef who knows vastly more than you do. Stay connected with the best people you work with over the years. Colleagues become friends, investors, and future jobs. Remember: the more you give, the greater the reward.

What are your tips for pastry success?
Perseverance, humility, diplomacy, never losing a sense of ‘wonderment.’

On the equipment side, do you have a favorite blender or other piece of equipment that you like to use and make’s your job easier?
My baby-offset spatula is my best friend. It does everything and without complaint. What makes my job easy is my big tabletop dough sheeter and a Carpigiani LB100B ice cream maker. That machine is the best on the commercial market.

Looking into your crystal ball… Where will we find you in five years?
In five years, I will have published two books, be working in NYC or Europe and own a dog. These are my goals but life is mysterious.