Tracy DeWitt is the American Culinary Federation Western Region's Pastry Chef of the Year for 2010. This week, she'll vie for the national title against three other regional chefs in Anaheim, California.
Growing up, she had no career aspirations of being a chef. But when she started working part-time in a New Jersey bakery at age 15, a fascination with the bakers and cake decorators lured her in and a trip to Paris for a food show with the bakery's owner had her hooked.
"As a 17-year-old girl from New Jersey, going to Paris, France for a pastry show and seeing sugar showpieces and chocolate showpieces and these incredible wedding cakes and equipment bigger than my house, I was blown away and that changed my life," DeWitt said. "That trip was the reason I became a pastry chef."
DeWitt, who always wanted to teach, but just didn't know what she would be teaching, is now a pastry chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, as well as a regular competitor and first-place winner on Food Network Challenge and in other pastry throw downs.
Luckily, we were able to catch DeWitt between class and practice to get her take on bakeries, blowtorches, processed lunchmeat and why "sugar happens."
Favorite tool? The blowtorch. Because I think a woman with an automatic flame at the end of her arm is a very powerful thing. People listen to a woman with a blowtorch.
What was in your lunch box growing up? Chicken roll on white bread with mayonnaise. I haven't thought about the chicken roll in a long time. Now I look at it, and I'm like, "That is the most scary looking processed meat. Why didn't she just give me sliced fresh turkey?"
Worst flavor combination: I disagree with chocolate and bacon being together. I feel strongly about it. It's just wrong. I ate it, and it was like: "Okay, I taste the chocolate. Okay, there's the bacon. Yeah, I don't want these in my mouth together at the same time."
Biggest disaster: I made a 4-foot scarecrow out of sugar for a graduation showpiece. The scarecrow's head was about the size of a cantaloupe. He had overalls with these cute plaid patches and straw coming out. And he was entirely made of sugar. We were carrying the scarecrow to a buffet. We got ten feet from the buffet, and our arms got really tired. So we set him down on a table and just tapped it wrong, and his head fell off. And his head rolled, literally rolled down the hallway, and then smashed into the wall. It broke into a million pieces. The ceremony was 30 minutes away. It had taken us 40 hours to make the scarecrow. And we had no spare head. There was no showpiece that day. Ever since then, we've used a phrase in our kitchen: "sugar happens." Sometimes chocolate happens too.
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The Phoenix food scene needs more: Bakeries! I went to Paris, and it was unreal. It's like boucherie, formagierie, boulangerie, patisserie... There's a butcher, a cheese shop, a bread shop, a pastry, a tourist shop and a clothing store, and then it repeats itself again. So you can hit like ten pastry shops within a mile of each other. And they're all successful, and they're all packed, and they're all fresh.
Most recent foodgasm: Haji Baba has the best hummus I've ever had and this chicken schwarma in this garlic aioli in this warm pita that when you put it all together, it's like a party in your mouth.
Tune in tomorrow to hear more from Chef DeWitt including her secret weapon for the ACF competition and why we want to go camping with her and her husband.