In Austin, we're blessed with boundless talent in the pastry department. After all, who can resist a sweet ending to a fabulous meal?
This year's Tastemaker Awards nominees for Pastry Chef of the Year represent our dynamic (and growing) culinary scene, with established names and new faces sprinkled in for good measure. We'll announce the winner on May 17, but first, we're treating you to taste of their signature creations.
Kerstin Bellah, Juniper
Kerstin Bellah knew her calling was to be a pastry chef at age 15. In 2013, Bellah left her hometown of Oklahoma City for Austin, where she landed as pastry chef for acclaimed Uchiko, before helping open St. Philip in 2014.
Now Bellah offers her amazing creations as pastry chef at Juniper. Her culinary style is light and feminine, using seasonal ingredients and enhancing their natural beauty and flavor. Her signature desserts are the Milk + Honey (milk mousse with local honey, chamomile frozen yogurt, honey meringue dust, chamomile powder, and chamomile oat clusters) and the pistachio cannoli with candied orange, dark chocolate, and creamy mascarpone.
Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Emmer & Rye
After spending his childhood baking cookies, cakes, and pies in Georgetown, Guyana, Tavel Bristol-Joseph attended the New York Restaurant School. He blossomed at places like The River Café in Brooklyn, Blue Fin at the W Hotel in Times Square, and Braeburn in the West Village, before working with Chef Kevin Fink at Zona 78 in Arizona. The two developed such an excellent relationship that Bristol-Joseph followed Fink to Austin to open Emmer & Rye.
Here, he adds a touch of whimsy to the seasonal menu with desserts like tres leches cheesecake with strawberry guava glaze or hefeweizen ice cream sandwiched between chestnut and emmer chocolate cookies.
Steven Cak, Ramen Tatsu-ya
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America with honors in pastry and baking, Cak developed his skills in New York restaurants like Café Grey and Aquavit before moving to Austin for a whirlwind culinary career. Cak oversaw the Parkside Projects pastry program before moving on to Gardner and Contigo, where he excelled with innovative and delicious creations.
In fall 2015, he joined Ramen Tatsu-ya as part of the culinary development team, overhauling the noodle house's desserts to exotic items like the Yuzupioca, Japanese citrus tapioca with strawberry, basil, and pink peppercorn crumble.
Thomas Calhoun, Lenoir
Since moving to Austin in 2008, Calhoun has made his way through some of the city's top kitchens — La Condesa, Uchi and Uchiko, Sway (he spent a month in Bangkok to explore the cuisine), and laV.
At Lenoir, he creates desserts that complement the restaurant's focus on hot weather food. Seasonal recipes balance sweet, salty, and savory, while playing with texture and the ingredients Texas has to offer. His current cheese-based dessert incorporates pecan-smoked caldera from River Whey Creamery in Schertz into a flan paired with pecan shortbread and poached sapodilla from South Texas.
Mary Catherine Curren, Elm Restaurant Group
This Austinite headed to New York to study at the Culinary Institute of America, where she met her husband, Chef Andrew Curren. After working at spots like The Water Club and Cookshop, she returned to Austin, where she served as Zoot's pastry chef until the couple opened 24 Diner.
As executive pastry chef for Elm Restaurant Group, Curren oversees desserts and pastries at all Elm properties, including 24 Diner (Kentucky Bourbon Pie with chocolate, pecans, and a flaky crust) and Italic (budino di cioccolato with salted almonds, espresso caramel, and a house-made almond chip biscotti). At the wildly anticipated Irene's, her old-school desserts will resemble sitting at your grandmother's table.
This dynamic Dallas native was the opening executive pastry chef at Contigo before departing Austin to travel abroad. She staged at Le Grenier à Pain in Paris and Minoteries Viron in Chartres, France, which serve as her inspiration for French desserts.
Upon returning to Austin, she worked at Sugar Mama's Bakeshop and hosted her own pastry pop-ups. Shortly thereafter, Melton became opening executive pasty chef at Al Fico, where she excelled with Italian desserts. In January 2016, she joined the Odd Duck team as pastry sous chef.
Janina O'Leary is no stranger to nominations. The South Texas native cut her chops at places like Daniel and Per Se before opening New York's Village Tart as executive chef, and in 2013, she was a James Beard Award semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year.
O'Leary returned to her home state to head the pastry program at Trace at the W and then opened laV, where she became a household name thanks to her freshly baked breads and amazing desserts (we still pine for that Stilton ice cream). O'Leary is now ready to embark on a project of her own with her husband, Sean O'Leary, but so far, mum's the word.
Susana Querejazu, Barley Swine and Odd Duck
The daughter of a Bolivian father and Texan mother, Querejazu realized at an early age that her passion for food went beyond loving to eat. She attended the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin then landed a job at Vespaio, followed by a stint at Amity Bakery. After focusing on bread, Querejazu returned to plated, composed desserts as pastry chef at Uchi and Uchiko.
It was there that she learned modern techniques and fine-tuned her craft, which led her to a job as pastry chef at Odd Duck. Querejazu now serves as the executive pastry chef at both Odd Duck and Barley Swine, where her overall style is classic mixed with savory seasonal ingredients. She specializes in laminated pastries like croissants, Danishes, and kouign-amann, which are showcased on the pastry tray during brunch at Odd Duck.
Laura Sawicki, Launderette
Laura Sawicki’s work embodies her background in art history and a lifelong passion for food. In early 2009, she moved to Austin to open La Condesa as executive pastry chef, where her whimsical and artful desserts earned her the title of Best New Pastry Chef in 2012 by Food & Wine magazine. She also oversaw the subsequent expansion of Sway.
In 2013, Sawicki joined forces with Margaret Vera, Tracy Overath, and longtime culinary partner Rene Ortiz to form a new restaurant group. She is currently the pastry chef and partner of Fresa's Chicken al Carbon and Launderette, where she creates seasonal delicacies with her signature playfulness and boundless creativity. Her most iconic dessert is the birthday cake ice cream sandwich — a must-have.
Erica Waksmunski, Parkside Projects
This versatile chef is just as at home in Michelin-star restaurants like Chicago's Everest as she is in her wildly popular food trailer, Red Star Southern.
After working as pastry chef for Restaurant Congress and Second Bar + Kitchen, she became the pastry director for Parkside Projects in 2014. Waksmunski oversees the dessert programs and menus at Parkside, Olive & June, Bullfight, and The Backspace. Expect wonderful surprises like Bullfight's turrón de chocolate, an unusual take on a classic Spanish dessert featuring roasted grape, hazelnut, and salted caramel helado, or her lemon ricotta roulade with lavender and strawberry gelato at Olive & June.