Forks up, Phoenix! Chow Bella and Roosevelt Row present the third annual Pie Social Saturday, November 3rd, from 2 to 6 p.m. on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. We've got an all-star line up of bakers making pies for you to taste, and from now til Pie Social, we'll introduce them to you, one by one. We challenged each to make us a dish -- other than pie.
Today: Chef Winnona Herr of District American Kitchen and Wine Bar makes butterscotch bananas foster pudding.
Winnona Herr is all business in the kitchen. A self-confessed busybody, this Connecticut-born pastry chef hates to sit still. Luckily her work at the Downtown Sheraton's District American Kitchen and Wine Bar keeps her moving.
Growing up as one of 11 children with a mother who always prepared home-cooked meals, Winnona and her siblings were encouraged to help out with the cooking. She got an early start in the kitchen preparing food for the other 300 members of her Bruderhof community. The Bruderhof, which in German roughly translates to "house of brothers," is a movement of Christian followers who place a heavy emphasis on the shared interests of the community rather than individual possessions (hence, the communal kitchen).
From her quaint upbringing in a Bruderhof community, Winnona went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America and perform a three-year apprenticeship with the American Culinary Federation. As an established pastry chef, she's enjoys the creativity of her job and the fast-paced environment that keeps her on her feet and working with her hands. "I'm a do-it kind of a person, she says, "I need to touch and feel."
When we arrive after the Friday lunch rush, Winnona leads us back into the behemoth commercial kitchen of the Sheraton, where she and her PR team have graciously laid out a generous set up of sparking and bottled water, a few varieties of freshly made caramel apples, and a large bowl of Winnona's popular caramel cashew popcorn. At her station are small cups of precisely measured ingredients for the pumpkin whoopie pies, a seasonal dessert on the District menu and a staple treat in her New England state. We compliment her keen organization, and she shrugs it off, saying that it would be a waste of time to watch her measure out ingredients.
Herr is all practicality -- minus her apron, which is a color patchwork smock that her sister-in-law had specially made on a trip to Africa. Winnona explains that this isn't her typical attire for working in the kitchen, but she tries to wear it whenever she knows her picture's being taken.
As she gets to adding her ingredients one by one into a pristine white Cuisinart mixer, we begin asking her questions about her life as a chef. As she works, the camera clicks and flashes its way to close-up shots of her and her food. It's clear that she's become accustomed to this type of interaction in her four years as Pastry Chef at District American Kitchen. She answers each question casually and modestly as she stirs and pours the batter into calculated circles on a baking sheet, paying little attention to the lens that is incessantly in her face.
In less than 15 minutes, Winnona has made her batter, baked it into miniature cake buns, and is now frosting them with the help of her disposable pastry bag. "This is probably my second favorite tool int the kitchen," she says (her first being a good heat resistant spatula).
When asked if she ever bakes at home, Winnona honestly answers no. After spending long hours cooking and baking to feed banquets, receptions, and the fluctuating occupancy of 1000 hotel rooms, Winnona welcomes a baking break when she finally returns to her Phoenix apartment, even indulging in the occasional take-out from some of her favorite local spots like Da Vang on 19th Ave and Camelback.
"I love a good divey, hole-in-the-wall place," she says, "I don't need all the fancy all the time."
She finishes assembling her whoopie pies and is already looking for the next task. She offers to make one of her newer menu items, a butterscotch bananas foster pudding.
Before we can even finish saying, "oh that's so sweet but you really don't have--," she's already begun heating up the pan.
As we watch her prepare what could easily be dessert Armageddon in our hands, we are amazed with how fluidly she moves from one step to the next, making it look like a piece of cake, or in this case, pudding.
She finishes the bananas foster in a fraction of the time it took her to make the whoopie pies and then leads us back to our original station to display all the desserts for their photo shoot. She's even added added a plate of pre-made chocolate whoopie pies with handmade peppermint ice cream -- just in case our blood sugar wasn't high enough.
As we sample each dessert (admittedly the fosters was our favorite, but then again we're suckers for all things caramel), we have to look over at Winnona, who's reaching into her tumbler of spoons and tasting some of the sweet creations herself.
How this chef manages to stay so petite is beyond us, but we know this much is certain: it's probably in our guts' best interest that we don't all have Winnona Herr's talent in the kitchen.
Want to read about the other competitors? Brady Breese Makes Pumpkin Bread Joan O'Connor Makes Mediterranean Pasta Salad Monti Carlo Makes Banana Bread Muffins Mamma Toledo Makes Egg Sammies with Horseradish Cheese Slade Grove Makes Gluten-Free Amaretti Cookies Jeff Kraus Makes the "First Time Crepe" -- Nutella, Elderflower, Spiced Walnuts and More David Duarte Makes Peanut Butter Crunch Bars Winnona Herr Makes Butterscotch Bananas Foster Pudding
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