Mallory is a recent addition to the Chestnut crew, and she has certainly made an impression in that time with her visually creative desserts that are inspired by sweet and savory flavor combinations. Here she talks a bit about her process and how she got into the foodservice industry.
You have a less traditional background than some lifelong restaurant folks. What is it that you’re interested in when you’re not in the kitchen?
I went to the University of Vermont. I have a degree in zoology and wildlife biology so I’d probably be using my degree. I was passionate about ecology and evolution when I was in college, but now I’d probably be leaning towards more animal preservation. Manatees have always been my favorite animal, and obviously in the news lately, they’re kind of tragically in danger. It’s terrible. That’d be the route I would take, I would probably get involved with an organization that was aiming at solving why their populations are in decline.
What brought you to Asheville from Vermont?
I spent the previous six years in Vermont. I grew up in Connecticut. But I moved here because Vermont got really small, I’d been there too long. It’s too cold. There wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity for me and everyone said I would like Asheville. In my mind, when I heard North Carolina I thought of oceans, beaches, but I like the mountains. I hike every opportunity I have, so it worked out for me.
How did you get started as a pastry chef?
Yeah, my mom had a catering business in high school. She did gourmet cookies and candy, apples, and cupcakes the whole night. And I started helping her in high school. And then kind of took over the business for a little while. She got busy at work, and I really liked doing it. And then in college, to pay for school, I started working in kitchens. I started as a prep cook. They didn’t have a pastry chef, and I obviously, well, we need one. So I just kind of hopped right into that role, taught myself and I’ve been doing it ever since. Kind of just building my resume from kitchen to kitchen.
Where do you find the inspiration for your desserts? They’re pretty unique.
Dessert was a big thing for my family on holidays. My mom loves holidays. So like, the meal was important, but there’s going to be at least three desserts. Something for my grandma, something with ice cream, something fabulous that she saw on Pinterest. With her s’mores it’s never just a regular s’mores, it’s got to be Reese’s and Hershey’s and like, everything.
I also can’t sit still. That’s why I like about this industry. I haven’t been a pastry chef in a few years. I was a sous chef and a kitchen manager prior to this. I’m super passionate about koji, fermentation, lacto-fermentation and aging, to pull out more umami in things that are traditionally very sweet. I think that’s where I’m pushing the limits. I want to figure out how I can discover every aspect of what something might taste like. For example there are black limes, and then there’s lime ash, which is a lime that was burned, so it’s very bitter, but it’s still citrusy and it balances how sweet the coconut pudding is. That’s in our Cantaloupe Island dessert, and it got me thinking because I just wanted to put cantaloupe on the menu. And I’ve been drinking a lot of mezcal lately, which ended up in the lime-mezcal sorbet. That was fun.
Any words of wisdom for the road?
I had the ability to teach myself throughout a lot of kitchens, but it was because I lacked supervision. No one knew what I was making, so I had a lot of freedom. If you want to do pastry exclusively culinary school is great and also gives you a foot in the door. I think, for pastry, that’s the only time I would advocate for culinary school so strongly. It’s so scientific, and you really need a solid foundation. I mean, a lot of restaurants hurt pastry-wise. There just aren’t as many pastry chefs. I think mental health is also a big issue in this industry. I think that is also why I bounced around so much. I don’t sit still well as just a line cook or just a sous chef or just a pastry chef, because that’s how it’s most interesting. That’s how you learn the most, when your work can kind of distract you from yourself and you can focus on what you’re doing with your hands.