This week we chat with Veronica Arroyo, pastry chef of Bourbon Steak at the Scottsdale Princess. Some of you may recall her delicious contributions to Chow Bella's Caramelpalooza and Pie Social.
Originally from Phoenix, the past fifteen years have taken Chef Arroyo far and wide, from Scottsdale, to Atlantic City, to the Big Apple, from the offices of U-Haul to the kitchen of the of Michael DeMaria's Citadel restaurant. She shares stories of transition, inspiration, and an indulgent recipe for the best strawberry dish in the valley.
So what got you into baking?
My spark was my grandmother...Every Christmas we would make red velvet cake and we would make these cookies called biscochitos, they were star anise cookies...I definitely developed my pastry push from my grandmother.
She must have loved your interest in the craft...
When she passed she gave me a recipe for the red velvet cake, and she told me, 'You can have this recipe but I never want you to tell anybody because it's our secret family recipe.' So I still have that recipe to this day and it's one of those things that I only make myself and it gives me such great pleasure to make that one thing because it just reminds me of who I was then and who I am now.
Can we get a taste of the cake?
I serve a different version of it here, we have a milk chocolate custard that has red velvet cake on it as a garnish...and that is different style than the recipe I'm used to because traditional red velvet cake was flavored and colored with beets. So we actually use beet juice here and we make it the original, Southern style of how it's supposed to be without any coloring agents...so that's kind of homage to something that is older for me and very important to me.
Tell us a little more about who you were back in the day
And you stayed close to home...
I chose the Scottsdale Community College culinary arts program simply because I thought I was sure about what I wanted to but I didn't want to go into a career and end up not doing that, going into a really expensive program and then changing my mind.
And you stuck with baking...
I just felt right in pastry. I'm a very technical person...I like things to be exact. When you're in pastry and baking, there is no room for error, and I like there not being a margin for error. With cooking I feel that you can be more artful, more creative, kind of throw things together...With baking, it's an exact science, and I loved that part of it, that it's either right or it's wrong but there's no in-between.
Your first job must have been some sort of cooking
My very first job I actually wanted to apply to a record store downtown in Phoenix, it was called Circles....Well the next day I had a family member of mine say there are summer openings at U-Haul international...She told me 'you have to apply it's so great you'll make a ton of money!'. So I applied and I got the job, so I was never able to go back to the record store even to put in my application.
After about a year I was a senior sales agent for U-Haul International which was surreal because I was making fantastic paychecks and had everything I wanted, but I knew I wanted to go to culinary school. So after a while I had to resign from that job and focus on a more career path and not just something that was right for me at the time.
But where did you first start cooking?
My first job cooking in a kitchen was with Marriott and that was at the Camelback Inn and I had a chef named Patrick Peeters and he was from Belgium. He was definitely my mentor...He gave me a job basically doing everything no one wanted to. I started out doing small prep work for buffets and I ended up doing their wedding cakes when I left...He really opened the door and kinda pushed me through, so I owe a great deal to him.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of our interview and find out what and who inspires chef Arroyo.
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