Cooking may be a mix of art and craft, but pastry adds an element of chemistry. Get the ratio of flour to fat to water wrong, and a would-be masterpiece goes straight into a trash can.
Thankfully, that’s not a problem for the seven finalists nominated to win the CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Pastry Chef of the Year by our panel of former winners and restaurant industry experts. Their souffles rise majestically, their chocolate cakes and dense and rich, and their breads have a chewy crust and a light crumb.
They are chemists and artists.
Who will win? Find out at the Tastemaker Awards party April 4 at Silver Street Studios. We’ll celebrate the nominees and reveal the winners while dining on bites prepared by 20 Houston restaurants and sipping on cocktails that utilize bourbon from sponsor Woodford Reserve. Tickets are on sale now.
Alyssa Dole, Formerly of Emmaline
This talented chef serves up homestyle sweets that blend precise technique with creative twists. The cinnamon rolls at Emmaline are so delicious that they’re worthy of this nomination by themselves, but the rest of the breads and sweets (ooh, that banana split with housemade ice cream) push Dole over the top. Currently, she’s working at Pinkerton’s Barbecue; if the banana cake seems a little fluffier and more flavorful recently, you know who to thank.
Jillian Bartolome, Aqui
The creative chef brought her Michelin-starred resume to Houston as part of the opening team at Common Bond and stayed on through the bakery’s acquisition by Johnny Carrabba. At Aqui, Bartolome earned a James Beard semifinalist nomination for Outstanding Pastry Chef for her luxurious creations that blend her Filipino heritage with modern technique. On a recent visit, those sweet included both a bite-sized brownie and an intricate dessert that combined papaya cream, grilled pineapple, and coconut sorbet.
Julia Doran, Nancy's Hustle
After earning a nomination for her work at Hunky Dory and Bernadine’s, the chef returned to the kitchen at Nancy’s Hustle, the white-hot EaDo restaurant that’s become a current favorite of Houston’s culinary community. From her crusty (in a good way) breads to sweets like churros and chocolate souffle, Doran’s work compliments that of chef Jason Vaughan. Her Japanese-style parmesan cheesecake with black pepper honey matches a fluffy texture with a delightful savoriness that makes it an excellent way to finish a meal.
Otto Sanchez, La Table
With a Michelin-starred resume that includes major hotels on two continents and time working for superstar chef Joël Robuchon, Sanchez might be the most underrated pastry talent in Houston. Thankfully, his breads, sweets, and pastries demonstrate the extent of his talent. Whether popping into La Table’s downstairs bakery for a couple of macarons to go or indulging in a decadent souffle at the end of a meal in the luxurious upstairs dining room, diners can count on Sanchez to deliver a memorable bite.
Samantha Mendoza, Killen's Restaurants
As she demonstrated with a win at the Rodeo’s Best Bites competition with her bacon tres leches bread pudding, Mendoza knows how to create desserts that appeal to the masses, but the delicate touch she showed at Triniti comes out in Killen’s Steakhouses intricate chocolates. Of course, all the Killen’s classics — from the carrot cake at the steakhouse to the banana pudding at the barbecue joint — are consistently well-executed. Diners wouldn’t expect anything less from anyone representing the Killen’s brand.
Sharon Gofreed, State of Grace
Just as State of Grace’s savory menu is influenced in part by owner Ford Fry’s memories of growing up in Houston, Gofreed’s pastries have a nostalgic quality to them. That means diners can finish their meals with a four-layer chocolate cake and or sticky toffee pudding, but Gofreed’s menu isn’t just retro classics. A recent addition of a persimmon upside down cake demonstrates her ability to put her own spin on things, too.
Victor Pucha, Maison Pucha Bistro
Given its culinary heritage, a French restaurant is virtually required to serve great desserts. At Maison Pucha Bistro, Victor Pucha, one of three brothers who own the restaurant, turns out high quality breads and a wide range of sweets: everything from macarons to mignardise and a daily fruit tart. Still, it’s the dishes that incorporate chocolate from the brothers’ native Ecuador — as in Pucha’s signature black and white chocolate souffle — that really shine.