This is part one of interview with Andrea Wight, pastry chef of Beast + Bottle. Part two of my chat with Wight will run tomorrow morning.
A lot of us can recollect the first time we baked a batch of brownies, but what sticks in Andrea Wight's mind is the name her dad gave her when he popped one of her chocolate squares in his mouth. "My dad called me the 'little chef,' and I remember thinking, 'Really? I could make baking brownies my job?' I was completely befuddled," says Wight, now the pastry chef at Beast + Bottle.
Aside from her grandmother, who would pretend to be on TV while baking cookies, no one else in her family cared much about cooking, says Wight, who was born and raised in a small town outside of Buffalo, New York. "I loved food and had this weird passion for cooking," she remembers, "and I spent as much time as I could in the kitchen, even getting banned because I once dropped maple syrup all over the floor. It was the closest I ever came to getting grounded."
But a scolding from her parents didn't dampen her spirits. Wight attended Penn State, where she majored in hospitality management and graduated with a master's degree in the same discipline. And in between her studies, she worked as a pantry cook at a nearby restaurant, soaking up the kitchen atmosphere. "I loved and adored it," she says. "The menu changed every month, so I was learning about new ingredients all the time, and I loved the system of working on the line, of five people working together to put together one plate, and I was obsessed with the stress, the rush and the constant challenges."
After nearly three years on the line, she moved to St. John in the Virgin Islands to work seasonally at a resort, augmenting the off-months with cooking stints at a bed-and-breakfast in Montana. And in 2011, she moved to Denver to be near the mountains.
Her first gig was at the now-closed Venue, where she started as a line cook, eventually getting a turn at pastry work under the tutelage of Natalia Spampinato, the pastry chef at Il Posto. "Her desserts were just amazing, and I loved watching her work," says Wight, whose next foray into pastry was at Vesta Dipping Grill. She as hired as a line cook, but quickly began delving into pastries, creating desserts for Vesta's Monday suppers and for the staff on their birthdays. Vesta's kitchen is exactly the kind of classroom that catapults an aspiring pastry chef's self-esteem, she notes: "It's a huge teaching kitchen, and my confidence grew by leaps and bounds while I was there." Wight was also putting in time at the Squeaky Bean, designing desserts alongside Matt Thompson, the Bean's former pastry chef.