As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.
Amanda Crick and Erin Glassburn are bona fide Southern girls. Crick, born in Tennessee, and Glassburn, originally from Missouri, worked their way through all aspects of the restaurant business to eventually form a team as executive and assistant pastry chefs, respectively, at Tonto Bar & Grill at Rancho Mañana and its sister restaurant, Cartwright's Sonoran Ranch House in Cave Creek.
Although the two chefs discovered their love of pastry differently (Crick through her nights plating desserts and Glassburn through early days of holiday baking with her mom) they both share a love of experimenting with sweets.
At Tonto's and Cartwright's, Crick and Glassburn can really let their crafty sides out, making many of their ingredients from scratch and playing with Southwestern ingredients like Mexican chocolate and prickly pear. With their flair for desert-inspired desserts and local ingredients, we're curious to see what this duo brings to this year's Caramelpalooza.
I put my caramel on . . . Crick: Chocolate! Everything is better with chocolate! Glassburn: Really tart apples or a spoon, if I am out of apples.
You can never have too much . . . Crick: Cake. It's always better the next day for breakfast. Glassburn: Ice cream. Always room for ice cream.
My favorite local ingredient to work with is . . . Crick: Prickly pear fruit. There are 101 ways you can bake with prickly pear fruit, from ice cream to candies, sauces, and marmalades; I can go on and on. Glassburn: Prickly pear puree . . . sweet and tangy and pairs well with everything from fish and poultry to vanilla and chocolate.
One food I just can't stand . . . Crick: Liver and onions! Yuck! My mom would make it all the time and I couldn't stand the smell of it cooking, either. Glassburn: Scallops. I don't like the texture or the smell.
Every kitchen needs a good . . . Crick: Chef, to be a team leader and role model to employees. Teach them what they don't show you in culinary school and motivate them, drive them to go beyond their comfort zone and explore the culinary world. Glassburn: Whisk and rubber spatula.
I learned to cook from . . . Crick: My mom, of course. Glassburn: I learned cooking techniques from my mother and grandmother, as well as family recipes handed down, but flavor profile comes straight from my gut. Sometimes you've got to be a mad scientist and just start throwing flavors together to know what will work and what won't.
The best pairing since peanut butter and jelly is . . . Crick: Sweet and savory, like chocolate and bacon. Mmmmmm. Glassburn: Kettle corn dipped in dark chocolate, I can eat a whole bag.
When I'm not in the kitchen, I'm . . . Crick: In the mountains. I'm a tomboy. I love to fish, hunt, hike, anything outside and away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Glassburn: I'm out riding with my boyfriend on his motorcycle.
My guilty pleasure is . . . Crick: Ice cream! Glassburn: Jelly Belly jelly beans, especially the sour ones.
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Eating ___ makes me feel like a kid again . . . Crick: Rice Krispie treats. We get creative and put different ingredients in, like cocoa puffs and chocolate-covered pecans. Glassburn: String cheese and pepperoni makes me feel like a kid again. I was never really a sandwich eater as a child, so those were my compromise.
My favorite cookbook is . . . Crick: I think it's called Dessert Queen by a lady who owns a little restaurant in Texas. It has a lot of "down-home cooking" recipes that are easy to produce out of the comfort of your home kitchen.
My cooking nightmare would be . . . Crick: Dropping a special-occasion cake. It's actually happened before, and you just feel horrible because you just ruined that person's special day.