When you're a jaggernaut restaurant like Congress restaurant, it's important to have all your ducks in a row. Something chef/owner David Bull painstakingly achieved when he opened both Congress and 2nd Bar + Kitchen a little more than a year ago. (Congress Bar too.) A killer chef (David Bull), top notch chefs de cuisine (Rebecca Meeker and Ethan Homes), an award-winning wine and beverage director (June Rodil), mad scientist mixologists (Billy Hankey and Jason Stevens), and a phenomenal pastry chef, Plinio Sandalio.
So what happens when the pastry chef decides to pursue a new opportunity at Carillon — one that involves Bull's former sous chef when at the helm of the Driskill Hotel, Josh Watkins, no less?
You go out and find the absolute best pastry chef to continue to raise the bar for the nationally-acclaimed fine dining locale.
And Bull has done exactly that. This month, Congress welcomes Erica Waksmunski as the new pastry chef for Congress and from what Texas Monthly's Pat Sharpe has gleened from a recent interview with her, we can expect great things from the recent San Francisco transplant. Here's a quick glimpse of the exclusive first interview with Waksmunski from Sharpe:
A Conversation with Erica Waksmunski, New Pastry Chef at Congress
By Texas Monthly Executive editor Pat Sharpe
The position of pastry chef at Congress, the new and much-lauded fine dining venue in downtown Austin, didn’t stay open long. Thirty-one-year-old Erica Waksmunski has slipped into the opening left by the departure of Plinio Sandalio (who went to the Carillon, in Austin). She started on January 22. Two days ago I sat down with Waksmunski to sample her wares (what’s the opposite of hardship pay?!) and chat about her love of making desserts and how she came to Austin for a visit and ended up with a job offer.
Texas Monthly: How did you get started cooking sweet things?
Erica Waksmunski: When I was a kid, my mom and I would begin baking at Thanksgiving to have gifts ready for everybody on our Christmas list, which included the mailman and the check-out clerk at the grocery store as well as friends and family. It was all scratch baking—breads, cookies, that sort of thing.
TM: What was the hardest?
EW: Rugelach! These are small rolled pastries filled with things like nuts and raisins. My mom is from New York—they are popular in the Northeast—and I remember spending hours and hours and hours rolling out that cream cheese dough.
TM: For you, was it always pastry, from the beginning?
EW: Actually, I cooked a lot of savory [unsweet foods] as a kid. I remember a cooking show on TV taught by some German chef (at least, I thought he was German). I would watch it religiously, write down all the ingredients, and call my dad at work and tell him what I needed him to pick up on his way home. Then I would cook dinner.
TM: Where did you go to school and work before moving to Austin?
EW: I grew up in Virginia Beach and I went to Johnson & Wales University, which is a culinary school in Charlotte, North Carolina. After that I got an internship at Everest in Chicago—I was really lucky. I called the kitchen every single day until Chef Perry told me yes, and later I got hired there. After a couple of years, I went to Flyte World Dining & Wine, in Nashville, which was kind of crazy. I was so young in my career and it was a demanding job, but I told myself, it’s sink-or-swim time.