This is part one of my interview with Samm Sherman, pastry chef of Root Down and Linger; part two of my chat with Sherman will run tomorrow.
It was the pot au chocolat that changed Samm Sherman's life. She was a student at the University of Colorado and working the front of the house at the now-closed Bloom when a friend offered to take her to lunch. They went to the Kitchen in Boulder and ordered the restaurant's pot au chocolat -- a sugar high, says Sherman, that sunk in. "I don't remember anything I ate except for that dessert, but it was completely magical, and that's when I had the realization that there existed something more than starters and entrees -- that dessert could be really special," recalls the native of Tucson, now the pastry chef at Linger and both Root Down locations.
See also: First look: Root Down at DIA
She started creating desserts at CU, too, while surviving a sorority house. "I needed an escape, so I always retreated to the kitchen to bake, and the more I did it, the more I realized that baking was something that I really loved," says Sherman, who originally wanted to design wedding cakes but whose lack of experience was a roadblock. "I thought that wedding cakes would be my deal, but I didn't have the experience, so I moved to California to go to the Culinary Institute of America," says Sherman, confessing, too, that plated desserts -- not wedding cakes -- became her focus. "Maybe someday I'll do wedding cakes, but there's something about plated desserts that I love. It's the last thing you eat, and I like the pressure of making sure it's a great experience," she notes.
Pastry certificate in hand, along with enviable stages that included stints at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville and San Francisco's Tartine Bakery, Sherman returned to Denver in 2009 and secured a position at WaterCourse Bakery. The plan, she says, was to stay in Denver for a year -- a promise she made to her boyfriend, now her husband -- and then explore opportunities in other cities, namely New York and Seattle, where she had job prospects. "I made my boyfriend stay in California for a year, and since he gave me a year there, I said I'd give him a year in Denver, but I wasn't planning to stay any longer than that," admits Sherman.
But on a whim, she submitted a résumé to Root Down, and after an interview and a stage, she suddenly found herself on the schedule, but she wasn't hired to do pastries. "I was working pantry and I got to plate desserts, but I wasn't doing any production," she says. Still, she was persistent, coming in on her days off to assist the then-pastry chef, and when that person left, Sherman says, she was offered the job...by default. "I just kind of walked into it, but I'm still here and going strong, and I don't see myself leaving anytime soon.