A look at four female pastry chefs in who head pastry departments in Zurich, New York, Vienna, and Paris.
Not so long ago the post of head pastry chef in a large establishment would always have been male. Gradually as more young women entered the culinary work force, things started to change, and today women account for numerous positions of responsibility in hotels, restaurants, and pastry shops worldwide. And while Michelin-starred restaurants in New York and Paris, a multi-branch pastry shop in Zurich, and one of Vienna's old coffeehouses might not have much in common, their pastry departments are all headed by women. Here are their stories with a recipe from each.
Supervising a staff of 40 pastry chefs and cooks, Claudia Schmid, 35, is the Konditorei Leiterin, or head pastry chef, of the Fleischli pastry shops located in suburban Zurich. Schmid is a 14-year veteran of pastry shop giant Sprüngli where she completed her master pastry chef diploma in 2005. A native of Basel where she apprenticed at a local shop before heading to Sprüngli, she has also competed in the Swiss Chocolate Masters and is featured yearly at Zurich’s Salon du Chocolat. “I love organizing for production and all the new mechanized techniques that provide consistent results. When I bought a state-of-the-art machine for cutting cake layers, my former chef from Sprüngli came by to see it one day after work. He ordered one the next day! Right now I’m enjoying my new laser cutter that can be programmed for perfectly uniform cuts in everything from cookie dough to assembled cakes.” Her recipe, a poppy seed and freeze-dried raspberry cake on a stick, reflects both her love of playfulness as well as her interest in using up-to-date equipment.
Angela Pinkerton, 35, pastry chef at New York’s 11 Madison Park, a Michelin 3-star restaurant, graduated from Kent State University with a degree in biology. Afterwards she continued working in local country clubs and bakeries until she decided to attend l’Academie de Cuisine’s pastry course in Gaithersburg, Maryland, from which she graduated in 2006. After a brief stint at the Ritz Carlton in Arlington, Virgina, she did a stage at 11 Madison Park and decided to accept a job there working for the then pastry chef. She stayed through a couple of changes of pastry chefs before eventually accepting the position herself. Pinkerton collaborates very closely with 11 Madison Park chef-owner Daniel Humm who told me, “We have a ‘one-team one-dream’ approach and everything we put on the menu passes through a series of taste tests and evaluations by a group of our colleagues.” While Pinkerton has carte blanche to dream up new ideas and combinations, they become finished dishes after repeated tastings and refinements. Her recipe, a riff on Waldorf salad, is typical of her approach.“We’re very New York and we love to emphasize that especially in our desserts,” Pinkerton told me. “We get a little playful with our versions of New York specialties like cheesecake, egg creams, and chocolate-covered pretzels in our petits fours and dessert accompaniments.”
A native of Vienna, Manuela Radlherr, 39, took over the position of head pastry chef at Café Central, one of Vienna’s old-line establishments known for the excellence of its sweets, a little more than a year ago. Trained as both a pastry chef and bread baker in Vienna, Radlherr also spent some time working at a large Viennese-style bakery in Perth, Australia. Returning to Vienna, she made the rounds of classic establishments before settling in at Café Central about 3 years ago. Initially Radlherr seconded French pastry chef Pierre Reboul from whom she took over after his departure back to France. Radlherr sees herself very much as a teacher. “I like working with young people when they’re starting out and to teach them practical ways for preparing doughs, tempering chocolate, and other essential techniques so that when they leave us they’re well equipped to move ahead.” Her recipe here is a modernized version of the most famous Viennese cake, the Sachertorte, no doubt influenced by the recent French invasion at Café Central.
Chef patissiere at Lasserre in Paris, Claire Heitzler, 34, hails from a small village in Alsace. She was influenced at an early age by the owner of a pastry shop a few steps from her childhood home; luckily for Heitzler, the owner was Christine Ferber, often cited as one of France’s finest pastry chefs. Soon after completing her apprenticeship, Heitzler accepted a position as pastry chef at Alain Ducasse’s Beige in Tokyo and, still in her twenties, supervised a staff of Japanese pastry cooks whose work she described as “very organized and serene.” “In Japan I learned to create desserts that were lighter, less sweet, and less fat-laden than European standards with an emphasis on fresh fruit, something that I’ve come to do now in my work at Lasserre,” she told me in a recent phone conversation. Her recipe here bears that out. She concluded with, “Young pastry chefs shouldn’t try to move ahead too quickly – go slowly and master the basics first.”
Whether they’re technicians, teachers, or traditionalists, young women pastry chefs are influencing and improving the wide world of desserts and baking every day, a trend that will only continue to grow.
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