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Sweet Heartbreak: Texas’ pastry problem leaves chefs unsatisfied

Photo: ESSENTIALS210, License: N/A

ESSENTIALS210

Claudia Treviño practices piping in her cake decorating class.


Perez’s story isn’t unique. If anything, her experience in much bigger markets should make her a hot commodity in SA, but it hasn’t. Instructor De La Fuente shed some light on why landing a pastry gig isn’t a piece of cake.

“In Texas, there was never the availability of this workforce that knew how to do scratch work (or products made from scratch) for chefs to employ. Major institutions, such as hotels—which tend to be higher paying jobs—got used to flying in frozen (goods),” De La Fuente said, “You crack it open, thaw it, bake it and you’re done.”

As pastry arts programs continue to churn out students, De La Fuente hopes that the media attention and a public ravenous for fresh artisan products will help create restaurant jobs for pastry chefs and bakers.

“We’re flooding the industry with skilled workers, but for the first few years, I think that most of them are going to have to go outside of Texas or work for themselves until the boat turns around,” De La Fuente added.

For chef-owners such as Restaurant Gwendolyn and Kimura’s Michael Sohocki, the issue isn’t just finding the right applicant. “The available applicant pool is pretty shallow compared to New York or San Francisco or Chicago, so the people that really know what they’re doing are few and far between. … At the same time, the [clientele] we’ve been given to work with are still looking for queso on the menu; apple pie and vanilla ice cream is very welcome … but serving a dessert entirely comprised of tomato … these ideas are unwelcome in a lot of San Antonio,” Sohocki said.

Sohocki circumvents lackluster dessert sales by having multi-course dinners where diners know delicious tarts are part of the deal; this also means usually hiring on a pastry chef to create what he calls “the weird shit,” like a beet-centered dessert with seven separate components, for example.

Gwendolyn’s previous pastry chefs include Asheley Draffan, who left the restaurant for Blue Star Brewing Company, and, most recently, Kat Sees, who’s currently making fabulous pastries at Steve McHugh’s Cured. Sohocki takes over pastry duties in the interim, and he’s currently training dishwasher Jake Mango to help alleviate the workload.

Over at Kimura, the availability of any sweet finale is touch-and-go and often up to bartender Steve Gonzalez to dish out. Sohocki admits he can’t afford to have the position at the noodle shop.

Solo Sweets

So what’s an impending graduate like Treviño supposed to do as she prepares to leave St. Philip’s? Treviño hopes to take an entrepreneurial route in years to come. She’ll follow the lead of several pastry chefs that took matters into their own hands such as Ng and Mandrell of Bakery Lorraine, who began their baking adventure in Yountville, Calif., at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. After relocating to San Antonio for jobs with Rackspace, the couple’s passion for baking classic French pastries reasserted itself. Their delicious booth at the Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market on Sundays snowballed into a small but mighty shop that’s quickly outgrowing its 500 square-foot kitchen where they produce sweets for the bakery, all of the Local Coffee locations, Uncommon Fare and Halcyon in Southtown, and pizza dough for Barbaro. They’re currently searching for location to build a larger kitchen.

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