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Best Pastry Chefs

Houston's best pastry chefs are revealed: The city's dessert masters square off in Tastemakers

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Slideshow
Reuben Ortega pastry chef
Ruben Ortega ChefsForACause.com
Jody Stevens pastry chef
Jody Stevens JodyCakes.com
Susan Molzan of Petite Sweets
Susan Molzan Photo courtesy of Petite Sweets
Victoria Dearmond pastry chef
Victoria Dearmond Facebook
Chris Leung pastry chef
Chris Leung Balcor Hospitality
News_Marene_chefs_gadgets_Vanessa O'Donnell
Vanessa O'Donnell Photo courtesy of Ooh La La Courtesy of Ooh La La
20 Eleven XI Restaurant & Bar chef Kevin Bryant
Kevin Bryant Photo by © Roswitha Vogler/Photosbyrovo.com
Marene why I became a chef Jose Hernandez April 2014
Jose Hernandez Photo by Kimberly Park
News_Rebecca Masson
Rebecca Masson Courtesy photo
Reuben Ortega pastry chef
Jody Stevens pastry chef
Susan Molzan of Petite Sweets
Victoria Dearmond pastry chef
Chris Leung pastry chef
News_Marene_chefs_gadgets_Vanessa O'Donnell
20 Eleven XI Restaurant & Bar chef Kevin Bryant
Marene why I became a chef Jose Hernandez April 2014
Triniti Restaurant pastry chef Samantha Mendoza
News_Rebecca Masson

It's time for the second category reveal for the CultureMap Tastemakers Awards. Having already taken a look at the nominees for Best Up and Coming Chef, we turn out focus to Best Pastry Chef.

Who are the men and women whose painstaking skills and exacting standards turn eggs, butter and flour into creations that diners remember for days after eating them?

The candidates were selected by CultureMap's editorial team and voted on by a panel of industry insiders. You can join CultureMap on May 8 when everyone gathers to celebrate all the nominees and reveal the ultimate winners. Tickets are on sale now.

Houston's Best Pastry Chef contenders:

Chris Leung, Cloud 10 Creamery

Having established himself at places like Yelapa and Bootsie's Heritage Cafe, Leung spent a brief period consulting for Kata Robata before striking out on his with Cloud 10 Creamery. At first a wholesale only affair with a client roster that included Underbelly, Cloud 10's retail outlet in Rice Village allowed Leung to expand his skills.

 The constantly rotating menu of seasonal flavors and special sundaes means a diner can try something new every visit. 

The constantly rotating menu of seasonal flavors and special sundaes means a diner can try something new every visit. His banana split, which includes bruleed bananas, three kinds of ice cream and housemade "magic shell," keeps the fun of the original while adding big time flavor. 

Rebecca Masson, Fluff Bake Bar

At Fluff Bake Bar, former Top Chef: Just Desserts contestant Rebecca Masson turns out kicked up versions of classic treats that are sold at a variety of spots around town like Revival Market and Fat Cat Creamery. From fluffernutters to macarons, Masson offers a diverse array of goods that feature big flavors.

At her monthly pop-ups, Masson shows the true range of her skills, producing everything from kolaches to classic French pâte à choux. If money talks, Masson raising $50,000 via Kickstarter for her upcoming storefront is further proof that Houstonians hold her in high regard. That she's used her celebrity to raise money for a variety of good causes, including Lucky Dog Rescue, is just, well, the icing on the cake.

Samantha Mendoza, Triniti

This Art Institute grad may only be four years removed from earning her degree, but she's had a meteoric rise through the industry. After working at Bedford and the Hilton Americas, she moved to Trinti and grew under the tutelage of fellow Tastemaker nominee Jose Hernandez. When Hernandez moved on, Mendoza stepped up, crafting intricate desserts that hold their own with chef Ryan Hildebrand's modern American cuisine.

When casual spin-off FM903 opens later this year, Mendoza will move to the new space and lead a comprehensive program of pastries and baked goods.

Victoria Dearmond, Underbelly

Vinegar pie may not sound delicious, but Underbelly pastry chef Victoria Dearmond is good at defying expectations. In her hands, the Southern classic has a welcome tartness and incredibly flaky crust.. At Underbelly, the menu changes constantly depending on which ingredients are available. That means that Dearmond's fried pies might be filled with farm fresh strawberries on one visit and pecans another.

 Vinegar pie may not sound delicious, but Underbelly pastry chef Victoria Dearmond is good at defying expectations. 

Her offerings also take full advantage of Texas citrus and the diverse array of cultural influences that shape the savory menu. Dearmond's role has become so important to the kitchen that she's been recently promoted to sous chef, assisting Lyle Bento and Dax McAnear with both Underbelly and The Hay Merchant. 

Ruben Ortega, Caracol/Hugo's/Backstreet Cafe

Working alongside his brother James Beard Award-nominated brother Hugo, Ruben Ortega has the talent to match his brother's high standards. At Hugo's, his version of classic Mexican desserts like tres leches are some of the best in the city, but he's taken things to another level at Caracol. Ortega produces his own chocolate from whole cacao beans, which see application in a variety of dishes.

His El Coco dessert is a can't miss item at the hot new restaurant: In part for the mix of coconut inside the chocolate shell. Mostly, though, it's the sheer pleasure one diner gets of whacking the thing open with a wooden mallet. 

Kevin Bryant, Eleven XI

Few chefs in Houston have both sweet and savory talents. Eleven XI's Kevin Bryant is one of them. Diners at the Southern coastal restaurant know to save room for dessert, as they wouldn't want to miss the daily fried pie or fresh baked cookies that draw each meal to a close.

Bryant's peanut butter tower, in which a thin layer of chocolate is applied with a paint sprayer, is a destination worthy combination of the two classic flavors.

Jose Hernandez, Radio Milano

Jose Hernandez first arrived in Houston with Philippe Schmit, where they made Bistro Moderne that rarest of Houston creatures — a hotel restaurant that attracts locals looking for good food. From there, he helped launch Philippe before opening Triniti.

Along the way, he's mentored a new generation of chefs like fellow nominee Samantha Mendoza. At each stop, he brings French technique to classic flavors with the occasional twist to keep things interesting. While his initial foray into striking out on his own at La Balance didn't pan out, this week Hernandez announced he will be the executive chef at Radio Milano, a new restaurant at the Hotel Sorella in CityCentre.

His savory dishes at La Balance were worth the drive to Katy, so the new project bears watching.

Jody Stevens, Jodycakes

For those who see dessert as an indulgence, the notion of pastries that are vegan or gluten-free sounds like a paradox. The calories from butter and eggs are the point, dammit.

Yet, whether due to religious practice, allergy concerns or simple personal preference, more and more people are looking for desserts that meet their dietary needs. That's where Jody Stevens comes in. Her business Jodycakes caters to those who wish to avoid specific ingredients while still enjoying the full flavor and richness of traditional recipes.

Of course, Stevens can make desserts the old fashioned way, too, which means ordering cupcakes for a birthday party means being able to indulge all of one's guests.

Vanessa O'Donnell, Ooh La La Sweets

Vanessa O'Donnell is part of the vanguard of pastry chefs who are moving Houston's bakery scene forward. After graduating from the Art Institute, she worked at the Houston Country Club before striking out on her own. Ooh La La has become a west side staple that's already grown to three locations.

Her repertoire includes all the classics: Pies, cakes, cookies, macarons and more. Her key lime is particularly excellent. With all that talent, it's almost easy to overlook that Eater Houston named her 2012's hottest chef, but doing so would be to slight her.  

Susan Molzan, Petite Sweets

Back in its 1980s heydey, Ruggles was one of Houston's most well-regarded restaurants, and Susan Molzan's over the top desserts were a big reason for its success. Ruggles may be gone, but Molzan has found a new role as the mastermind behind Petite Sweets, the Upper Kirby bakery dedicated to treats in small portions.

The variety of options, which includes a dozen or more flavors of macarons, cake balls, mini cupcakes, frozen custard and cookies, makes Petite Sweets perfect for a group of people who either like different things or love to sample a variety of options. As the bakery is a partnership with the FEED, TX group, her full-size desserts are on the menu at BRC and both Liberty Kitchens. 

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