Austin's food scene isn't just heating up — it's getting sweeter, too. As more and more Austin restaurants push culinary boundaries and draw national attention with their impressive menus, Austin's pastry chefs are getting a chance to show their chops and treat us to some seriously delicious treats.
Read on for an introduction to each of the six Austin pastry chefs nominated for Pastry Chef of the Year at the CultureMap's 2015 Tastemaker Awards, May 12 at Brazos Hall.
Stephen Cak is a seasoned pastry chef. After training at Arizona’s Scottsdale Culinary Institute and graduating from the Culinary Institute of America with honors in pastry and baking, Cak spent time in New York at restaurants like Café Grey and Aquavit. In Austin, Cak was in charge of the Parkside Projects pastry program before landing at Gardner and Contigo. At Gardner, Cak whips up delicious, innovative treats like “milk chocolate” with beet, rose and pomegranate; at Contigo, the treats are more rustic, like a Texas pecan mousse (brownie, pecan, bourbon).
After years of working for other restaurant groups, though, Cak is ready to work for himself. The chef recently announced he will be leaving the Gardner/Contigo family to open a New York-style bagel shop in North Austin. Judging by his pastry talents, we’re betting he knows how to bake an excellent bagel.
Mary Catherine Curren, Arro
An Austin native, Mary Catherine Curren always knew she wanted to go into pastry. After high school, she went straight to New York to study at the Culinary Institute of America. It was there she met her husband, Chef Andrew Curren. After working in New York at spots like The Water Club and Cookshop, Curren came back to her hometown and worked as the pastry chef at Zoot until she and Andrew opened up their first venture, 24 Diner.
Now, Curren works as the executive pastry chef at their French bistro concept Arro, where she serves up delicious profiteroles and housemade ice cream, plus dishes like the perfectly balanced citrus and vanilla cream tart (kumquat marmalade, grapefruit, almond-caramel corn).
Monica Glenn, qui
Monica Glenn grew up in Amarillo and after some time in California found herself in Austin “just sort of floating through college.” So she decided to try something else and enrolled in the Texas Culinary Academy (now Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts). After graduating, Glenn worked at Parkside, where Callie Speer introduced her to Phillip Speer, who she worked for at Uchi.
At qui, Glenn, who has said that she loves “the exactness of pastry” is responsible for the perfectly executed desserts, which include a coconut fig caramel semifreddo (with goat milk ice cream and coffee cashew) and a carrot spiced cake (crema montada, apricot, caramelized white chocolate).
Janina O'Leary, laV
A native Texan who has spent time in some of New York’s most prestigious kitchens, Janina O’Leary was a 2013 James Beard Award semifnalist in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute with a grand diploma in Pastry Arts, O’Leary gained experience at places like Daniel and Per Se before opening New York City’s Village Tart as executive chef.
Luckily for us, O’Leary landed back in Texas, first at TRACE in the W, now at laV. O’Leary is responsible for the wonderful, freshly baked breads and delectable desserts at the French favorite. Don’t miss her stilton blue cheese ice cream (port figs, candied pecans) or warm brioche doughnuts (strawberry champagne jam, lemon curd).
Callie Speer, Swifts Attic
Callie Speer found her passion early on: A kitchen job at Cipolina in Austin led to a job at Jeffrey’s, and before long, Speer had become a well-known name in the Austin pastry scene. After spending time at Mars and Parkside, Speer is in charge of the lovely and fun desserts at downtown Swift’s Attic, where the ever-changing menu features artful final courses from Speer like “funfetti.”
Nominated as a Food & Wine's People's Choice Best New Pastry Chef in 2013, Speer also heads up pastry at Delish Bakery, where in addition to creating delicious desserts, she works on collaborations with other creative folks. Last month, she teamed up for a pop-up with acclaimed potter Keith Kreeger to create 25 limited edition Negroni tumbles and a Negroni-inspired dessert.
Erica Waksmunski, Parkside Projects
Erica Waksmunski graduated from Johnson & Wales in Charlotte with a degree in pasty arts. From there, she worked at spots like Everest in Chicago and Chez TJ in Mountain View, California, and staged at Michelin-starred restaurants like Sons & Daughters in San Francisco and Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, California. After time spent as the pastry chef for Chef David Bull’s Congress and Second Bar + Kitchen, Waksmunski struck out on her own to sling fried chicken in front of The Grackle at her Red Star Southern trailer.
At the end of 2014, Waksmunski got back to to her pastry roots, taking on the role as pastry chef for Parkside Projects. Luckily, the trailer is still running, so we can get Wakmusnki’s impressive desserts like sweet potato custard (coconut mousse, spiced pecans, marshmallow fluff, pecan ice cream) at Parkside, and her fried chicken at Red Star Southern.