Interview with Executive Pastry Chef Anna Young of Café des Architectes – Chicago, IL

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Pastry Chef Anna Young is inspired by seasonality and nostalgia. “I try to think about not just what I like, but what our guests respond to,” she says. “Some dishes begin with a simple childhood memory – a piece of candy or chocolate.” Young discovered her love of pastry arts while studying at the Culinary Academy in Pittsburg.

A short time after earning a degree in Specialized Technology/Pastry Arts, she found herself on the opposite coast working as a pastry supervisor at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa, a Waldorf Astoria Collection hotel. In 2007 Young landed at TRU restaurant in Chicago under James Beard award winning chefs Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand. It was here that she developed a razor sharp eye for detail, learning and working among the very best. In 2014, Young joined Sofitel Chicago Water Tower where she put her knowledge of large scale banquet operations and fine dining prowess to work.

Young presents a wide range of show stopping desserts including traditional yet timeless Parisian mini desserts at Café des Architectes, an ever-present offering that allows guests to select from Opera Cake, Paris-Brest, Macarons and other marvels presented in a rolling cart. Young also creates the restaurant’s rotating Dessert Degustation, consisting of mini tastings of her top confections.

How did you get started making desserts, and when did you decide to make a career out of it?
I took culinary arts in high school. We went to a trade show and I saw a lot of pastry chefs doing demo’s there. That’s when I first saw that there was such a variety to pastry.

Who/what inspired you to become a pastry chef?
My friends and co-workers have inspired me to push myself to become a chef.

Describe your culinary philosophy and approach to pastry in three words.
Seasonal. Nostalgic. Technique.

Is there a process you go through to create a new dessert?
The internet is always a good tool. I find pictures/desserts that I like and build from there. Other than that I like to pull inspiration from traveling and dining out at different types of restaurants.

Talk about a current trend in pastry that interests you, and where would you like to see the industry go in the next couple of years?
Panning. I just took a class in it and loved it. I would like to see panning in different variety’s and maybe put a savory spin on it.

What are your most and least favorite ingredients to work with?
“New ingredients” has to be the answer for both. New ingredients are hard to work with. Sometimes you don’t know your boundaries when combining new flavors. New ingredients are also my favorite because you’ve opened up new opportunities and flavors.

What are your top three tips for success as a pastry chef?
Patience. Attention to detail. Respect.

What city would you most like to visit on a culinary adventure, and what tool, ingredient, or book would you take with you?
Anywhere in Spain, still haven’t made it yet. I might bring a spoon with me, but I would not bring an ingredient, I would be searching for more.

It seems like chefs often open their own restaurants but pastry chefs seldom do. Would you ever open your own place? I’ve been looking for a desserts first restaurant with a broad menu of sweets and only a limited selection of savory endings. Do you think Chicago is ready for that?
I have owned a company in the past and the only way I would do it again is if I worked with people I know I could trust and that shared the same passion as me. Yes, I think Chicago is ready for dessert first restaurant, something I often think of myself.

Where would one find you on your day off?
In the South Loop/Printers Row area. When it’s nice out of course a park or the lake.

The critics have their favorites, but I like to eat where the Chefs eat. Besides Café des
Architectes what restaurants do you like to eat at here in Chicago and/or elsewhere?
My two favorite spots in my neighborhood are Eleven City Diner and Flo and Santos. Nothing fancy, but I love it.

After a week of working long hours, what do you like to cook at home?
I don’t, the last thing I want to do is cook. You’ll find me on GrubHub.

Do you have a guilty pleasure; something that you prefer to eat when nobody is looking?
French Fries and Chicken Soup! Something I started when I was a little girl and I’m still addicted to it.

What advice would you offer young pastry chefs just starting?
Follow directions, have patience and keep clean/organized. Some great advice I was told once a long time ago, that may not sound appropriate is “Keep your head down, mouth shut and ears open”. I live to those 3 rules.

There are many aspiring cooks out there like myself who are not beginners but haven’t yet reached the professional level; what advice would you give us to take our pastry skills to the next level?
Stage, Stage and Stage. The best way to gain experience is to do it. Some classes would be good too, to understand the technical/scientific background to it.

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