Food & Drink
Sweet Heartbreak: Texas’ pastry problem leaves chefs unsatisfied
Published: February 12, 2014
Educating students on what flour to use for baking a cake is one thing. Guaranteeing students will find the jobs they want once the degree is completed is a whole other story.
Even as the CIA Café & Bakery, which employed students and baking professionals, closed its doors in mid-December to clear space for incoming students, Dubernard still expounded on the lack of real pastry chefs and bakers in San Antonio. “That’s why we’re trying to educate these people to be real professionals and know what they’re doing. Our core matter of business is to teach, and since we have no room to grow for the moment, we had to make a tough decision.”
He agreed that doing away with the beloved shop was sending a mixed message—but now the 18 baking and pastry art students have full run of the 2,300 square-foot kitchen located on the second floor of the building. A great kitchen for teaching purposes, to be sure, but students won’t usually run into such massive workspaces after graduating.
“It was a good decision because now students are doing a great job and if I bring in someone from Hyde Park to teach them, we’ll have the space,” Dubernard said.
Good decision or not, pastry professionals such as Jessica Perez, former overnight lead baker at the CIA Bakery, were left out in the cold when the café closed its doors. Perez, a San Antonio native, received her associate of applied science in culinary arts from St. Philip’s in 2004. She went on to work at Francesca’s at Sunset inside the La Cantera Hill Country Resort under Jesse Perez (no relation; he’s since founded Arcade Midtown Kitchen) before trying her luck in Chicago. There, she attended the French Pastry School and completed a 24-week baking and pastry certificate program. Next stop: California.
Initially, Los Angeles was far more welcoming than her hometown. There, Perez made her way through kitchens, first as a lead pastry cook in Santa Monica, then as pastry chef for Akasha in Culver City, later as lead pastry cook for Providence (a two-star Michelin eatery previously nominated as best new restaurant by the James Beard Foundation) and finally at Lukshon as pastry sous chef where she garnered mentions by LA Weekly and Eater LA.
“Food is life over there—people aren’t afraid to try things,” Perez said of her time in California.
After landing, and later losing, her job at the CIA Bakery (workers received a month’s notice of the café’s closing), she reached out to Tim McDiarmid of Special Projects Social fame to hop on board her pop-up dinners.
“I asked if she showcased artists, and if she’d showcase pastry chefs,” Perez said. McDiarmid invited Perez to join the cast of artists for December’s “Soup Night” where Perez went on to create a spiced bread pudding with chestnut cream, apple cider caramel and gingerbread crunch. McDiarmid later introduced Perez to Anne Ng and Jeremy Mandrell of Bakery Lorraine, where Perez recently completed a two-week trial period and has been hired on a part-time basis.
> Email Jessica Elizarraras