It’s always been baffling that pastry chefs don't get the same recognition as their savory colleagues. They are part scientist, part sculptor, part alchemist, and arguably more than anyone in the kitchen, responsible for ensuring that guests leave a restaurant happy.
With delightful desserts, beautiful breads, and perfect pastries, the eight nominees for the CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Pastry Chef of the Year certainly know how to make a good impression. Read on to learn more, then join us at our sweet annual party on April 10 at the Bullock Texas State History Museum to find out who takes the cake.
Melissa Carroll, Le Politique
One would expect a pastry chef with a degree in fine art to produce breathtakingly beautiful treats, and indeed Melissa Carroll’s eye makes even a humble croissant bread pudding a stunner on the plate. There is also an artfulness to the way she handles flavors. She modernizes the French pastry canon with unorthodox ingredients like the mandarin yuzu marmalade snuck into a Paris Brest or the splash of Kronenbourg beer in the Gruyère gougères. Both prove she is as accomplished with her palate as her palette.
Ryan Goebel, ThoroughBread
In this age of fast fashion and a faster news cycle, there’s something to be said about just letting things rise. Since opening his pocket-sized shop in November 2018, musician-turned-baker Ryan Goebel hasn’t flooded it with boules, batards, and baguettes. Save for the introduction of burridoughs — a breakfast burrito/klobasnek hybrid — the menu has remained the same. Besides those delights, there’s only six breads, four cookies, and the occasional special. Guests won’t want for anything more.
Jessica Maher, Lenoir
Jessica Maher won this category back in 2014, and it’s a testament that Lenoir is as relevant today as it was when it opened in 2012. Part of that is the overriding principal that the menu items are “hot weather food,” reflective of the semi-tropical town in which they are served. The other part is that Maher knows dessert should always feel special. When the eatery was prix fixe only, the sweets section was labeled “dream.” Even without that prompt, her delectable creations can still only be described as dreamy.
Jeremy Mandrell and Anne Ng, Bakery Lorraine
This married couple met while working at Thomas Keller’s internationally renowned Bouchon Bakery in Napa Valley. That first spark then still shows in their pastries. What goes into their bakery case is treated lovingly, starting with the highest quality flour, eggs, and butter. The results are shatteringly crisp croissants, luxuriant cinnamon rolls, and the best kouign amann in Texas.
Alex Manley, McGuire Moorman Hospitality
Swedish Hill may not yet be open, but it has already worked its way into its Clarksville neighborhood. A big reason for that is MMH’s ever-present director of baking, Alex Manley, whose Saturday morning back door bake sales are an essential start to a languorous weekend. The menu varies, but everything is up to Manley’s incredibly high standards. Recent hits include ham and cheese croissants, a springy ciabatta focaccia mash-up, and, of course, her signature bagels.
Lindsay O’Rourk, Better Half Coffee + Cocktails
Taste is a funny thing. Certainly, those little receptors on the tongue play a part, but memory and emotion is just as important when it comes to determining the difference between meh and wow. Lindsay O’Rourk seems to know that intrinsically. Although there’s always something new on the menu and the cake plate at the counter, sweets like the s’mores cake and glazed doughnut holes bring an almost a giddy sense of familiarity. What else should dessert be if not an expression of joy?
Amanda Rockman, New Waterloo
One of our biggest culinary fears is that Amanda Rockman will once again leave Austin. This is her third time living in the Capital City, after stints working in the finest kitchens in Chicago. No offense to the fine citizens of the Windy City, but we’ll tussle with them if they try to take her back. As the culinary director for one of the city’s most dynamic restaurant groups, she now acts as a resource for a sprawling team of chefs, but we honor her for the rock-solid foundation she set for the pastry arts. In whatever capacity, she is now a crucial part of Austin’s culinary DNA.
Laura Sawicki, Launderette
Dear James Beard Award committee: give our hometown hero the Outstanding Pastry Chef crown already. Surely after four previous nominations in that category, this will be Laura Sawicki's year. Still, Austinites don’t need anyone else to tell them she’s special. Approachable but not boring, nostalgic but not cloying, Sawicki's temptations have set the culinary standard for the entire decade.