Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last month, Squid Ink, the food blog of our sister paper LA Weekly, pondered the possible disappearance of the pastry chef in restaurant kitchens.
"Desserts often are seen as less important than the main courses," the article reads, "an optional portion of the menu that can easily be outsourced, with breads and individual desserts being brought in from an outside contractor."
Add other factors such as the financial crisis, precious kitchen space, and low pay, and you have to wonder whether pastry chefs are the culinary world's latest endangered species. I asked several Valley chefs if they thought the same, and this is what they had to say.
Chef Matt Taylor, Market Street Kitchen
Definitely in this town. It's sad because I love desserts and have profound respect for those who pursue and execute the craft at a high level. I don't order dessert most of the time because there are just not that many exciting things happening right now in the Valley's dessert scene.
Michael O'Dowd Chef and Owner, Renegade by MOD
Yes, more companies are right-sizing their food and beverage operations and believe they can replace a pastry chef with bought products to save labor. If you do the analysis, you'll find it's more lucrative to have a pastry chef for the long haul. Prepared desserts have come a long way, but you can't replace a personality, passion, and a qualified teacher of sweets to assist the overall team's success, which will enhance internal growth for cooks who paid 50K for school.
Jeff Kraus Chef and Owner, Crepé Bar
The science and art of pastries is my true passion. Pastry chefs are endangered if they only know the "sweet" side of pastry. Knowledge of modern ingredients and techniques is a savior of their existence. Gums aren't just for blowing bubbles, and the capability of controlling the viscosity of liquid is a first-class ticket to the moon in my restaurant.
Chef Chris Nicosia, Sassi
At Sassi, we're lucky to be busy enough to keep a full-time pastry chef. A pastry chef is a necessary part of the kitchen team at a resort or hotel, where the volume of baked goods is high. But I don't think the position is in the budget of many of the smaller independent restaurants -- owners often rely on a well-rounded executive chef to carry that weight.
Chef Matt Zdeb Sushi Roku, Scottsdale
Definitely not! There are more skilled and dedicated pastry chefs now than ever before. We execute a large number of special events that have to be executed flawlessly and with quite a bit of customization and personalization. The pastry chef creates some of the most emotional things people eat, and delivering something special is paramount.
Ella Levinson, Owner of Classic Cakes and Confections
I think pastry chefs at local restaurants are becoming an endangered species. Small, busy kitchens are often times too hot and cramped to accommodate a pastry team. I have seen outsourcing on the rise as of late.
Chef James Fox, Bootleggers
I don't think so, but I would add that they no longer want to be strictly pastry chefs because they seem to want to dabble in the savory. Also, most casual kitchens feel that their head chefs/cooks can handle the job without having to employ a singular-note position like that.
Chef Maurice Gordon, The Westin Phoenix Downtown
Great pastry chefs are an endangered species because they are hard to find. If you have a really great pastry chef, hold on to that one as long as you possibly can! It seems like pastry chefs are now more specialized with the types of desserts they choose to make. In turn, this limits the amount of versatile pastry chefs.
Chef Gregory Wiener, Top of the Rock
Depends on the segment. Large resorts and hotels will have a need for them, but smaller hotels are turning to their executive chefs for creative control. Independent restaurants are doing the same. As the lines blur between savory and sweet, we will see more and more crossover from the cooks and chefs.
Chef "T" Theresa Wille, 32 Shea
In large cities like New York and Chicago, a pastry chef might have decent luck finding a job. But in small cities or towns, lots of restaurants and hotels look at pastry chefs as an unnecessary cost.
Chef Chris Knouse, The Wigwam
A lot of places were getting rid of their pastry chefs during the recession, but it seems the economy is starting to bounce back some. There is hope for the culinary world to get back on track with some amazing desserts that are made in-house instead of being bought from an outside source.
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Aaron Eckburg Owner, Go Lb. Salt
Not any more than good chefs in general. We are extremely fortunate to have so many well-versed pastry chefs here in the Valley. I can think of four or five right off the top of my head who produce excellent pastries. I do think they are less well-known and understood, though.