Chef Kris Padalino of Glaze
After Glaze’s Heather Alcott and Sushi Sasa’s Wayne Conwell parted ways and Glaze by Sasa became Glaze again, Alcott hired Kris Padalino, a pastry chef with a reputation for creative desserts and great breads. That made sense, because Glaze had gotten its start as a bakery specializing in Japanese baum cakes and other confections. The surprise was that Alcott charged Padalino with heading an entirely new kitchen, with a plan to roll out lunch first and then add dinner.
Padalino credits her love of cooking to growing up on Long Island in a big Italian family. When her ancestors first came to this country from Italy, they purchased a string of Shell gas stations. But her grandfather had initially been a butcher — a trade her brother now follows — and so the family also ran a couple of small restaurants. Her grandmother worked in a department store during the day and then cooked in the restaurant in the evening. “I don’t remember ever not being in a kitchen,” Padalino says.
Padalino’s parents eventually moved their brood to Florida, and Padalino headed to California for college — but not for a culinary education. After earning degrees in math and chemistry, she got a job in the Los Angeles area with the goal of eventually going to medical school. “I enjoyed the work, and it was good money,” she says, “but I still kept thinking about cooking.”
She was baking cakes on the side, and her friends and family were encouraging her to make a go of baking full-time, so she returned to school, this time to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. As part of her externship, she began working at Campanile, which was famous for its pastry and bakery program, then picked up experience in a few other California restaurants. Her background in chemistry made her a whiz at some of the modernist — or molecular-gastronomy — techniques becoming popular in restaurant kitchens at the time. “It was easy to pick up,” she explains. “But sometimes you lose the whole meaning behind the dish. Some people get really uptight about it.”
Bakers and cooks are often portrayed as polar opposites, especially on over-dramatized cooking shows, where pastry chefs are pigeonholed as fussy and precise in contrast to those freewheeling and spontaneous cooks who can make a masterpiece from a little of this and a little of that. But the truth is seldom so black and white. While Padalino’s childhood cooking lessons involved pastas and sauces and seasonal favorites like the traditional Italian seven fishes of Christmas Eve — which her family prepared as a cold salad with a variety of shellfish and any other fresh catch from New York coastal waters — the artistry behind pastries always appealed to her. She cites famed confectioner and cookbook author Antonio Bachour as a strong influence: “The way he uses color and texture is amazing.”
Eventually, her desire for a change of scenery and her love of the outdoors led Padalino to Denver, where she worked with the Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group, at Jax Fish House in Glendale and then at Bittersweet, where her Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil dessert became a favorite for its miniature-garden presentation and tantalizing flavors of chocolate, cherry and smoke. But the chef-owners at those restaurants also furthered her education in the savory side of the equation.
That experience shows today in Glaze’s open kitchen, where Padalino executes plate after plate with both a calm demeanor and an intense focus. While it looks like dishes come together almost automatically, effortlessly, the platings and combinations are carefully planned, with layers of flavor. Padalino launched the lunch menu in mid-January with a small but smart list that uses Glaze’s unique rotisserie baking oven for savory as well as sweet dishes. Glaze got its start as a bakery featuring baum cake, a Japanese pastry with German origins made with a horizontal dowel that dips into the batter and bakes individual layers as it rotates. Once glazed and removed from the dowel, the circular cakes feature all the best qualities of a moist pound cake, a layered pastry and a sweet doughnut. For Padalino’s lobster roll, pretzel dough is wrapped around the dowel and baked into a hollow cylinder, which is then filled with a lobster salad tinged with green curry and perked up with pickled Asian pear.
At brunch, which was introduced just two weeks ago, after dinner had been successfully added at the start of April, Padalino uses an orange baum ring as the base for a savory-sweet egg-in-a-hole dish with a warming chorizo gravy and a tangle of lightly dressed young arugula. The sophisticated combination matches comforting childhood tastes with disparate flavor components, speaking to the chef’s ability to adapt and combine elements of her past.
But Alcott also tasked Padalino with infusing a Japanese theme throughout the menu. “I’ve never had any training in Asian food,” Padalino admits, “so there was a lot of testing.” As an Italian, though, she understands that good ingredients speak for themselves. So for a few dishes, she gives pork belly from Denver’s Tender Belly a topcoat of miso before braising it for several hours at low temperature. Bacon-thick slices of the braised belly make their way onto a pork udon bowl with noodles almost as fat as pencils, as well as into a brunch hash with Brussels sprouts, country potatoes, purple cabbage and a poached egg. “I’m just really partial to hash for breakfast,” Padalino admits.
Other new menu items include a short rib seared hard and braised for 24 hours until it’s almost melting, served with braised cabbage and a soy-and-sake sauce; shiitake-mushroom ravioli (a nod to her Italian heritage); and a vegetarian pot pie. You can taste the Japanese influence in some appetizers — for example, the bright tuna tatake plate with ponzu, candied lemon and pickled Fresno chiles.
And then there are completely unexpected tastes. “Heather is always bringing in new ingredients to play with,” Padalino says. One of those is prickly-pear fruit from the New Mexico ranch of Alcott’s business partner. The juice of those prickly pears makes an appearance in the bakery’s macarons; Padalino candies the fruit and pulverizes it into granules that add an earthy-sweet component. She also candies black sesame seeds and sprinkles them into a white sauce that accompanies a new lemon-bar dessert.
Bold colors and playful shapes play a role in Padalino’s dessert platings. White meringue baked into crisp hemispheres ooze passion-fruit gel; they look almost like oversized eggs with runny yolks. Blackberries, bronze crumbles of gingerbread and, surprisingly, a few strands of micro-cilantro broaden the palette of colors. Rather than the square-cut, sugar-dusted standard lemon bars, Padalino’s are baked in round molds and cut into half-moons for plating alongside a quenelle of Greek-yogurt sorbet.
When Padalino isn’t cooking, she hikes and snowboards. “I have to be outdoors,” she insists. But even when she’s not at Glaze, she spends time in her kitchen at home, making pasta that’s often infused with tomato or roasted red pepper. And she also likes trying restaurants around town. Favorites include Fruition, Acorn and Work & Class; she hopes to explore the dining scene at Union Station when she gets a chance. For caloric indulgence, she turns to Tom’s Home Cooking: “It’s probably the fattiest, worst food for you,” she admits, “but it’s so good.”
And taste matters. Even as a professional with a culinary degree and years of experience in two cities, she remembers her grandmother’s advice: “Just love what you cook. She told us, ‘If you don’t love what you cook, it will show.’”