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Lance Barto and the team from Central snatch up Cicely Austin, a Food & Wine magazine Best New Pastry Chef

When Central, the new restaurant in Highland, whose kitchen is commanded by Lance Barto, a former exec chef of Strings, opens mid-month, a Food & Wine magazine-heralded confection queen will be spearheading the pastry program: Cicely Austin, who was named one of the top fifty pastry chefs in America earlier this year by the glossy food pub, is leaving her position with Knightsbridge Restaurant Group in Washington D.C., where she oversaw the sugar highs at the The Oval Room Ardeo- Bardeo and the Bombay Club, to continue her career in Denver.

And Austin, who also spent a year interning under Top Chef Just Desserts head judge Johnny Iuzzini (he's also a James Beard Foundation "Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year" winner) and competed in the StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition in 2011, is looking forward to the change of scenery,

"I visited Denver five years ago and loved it, and I've sort of hit a wall in D.C. and feel like it's a good time to branch out and do something different," says Austin, who responded to a Craigslist ad.

"I e-mailed her back, asked her to send me a few photos of her desserts, and I was like this is no joke. Her dessert photos were just incredibly awesome," enthuses Barto, who met face-to-face with Austin a few weeks ago in Denver, where she did a tasting. "She killed it," says Barto. "Everything -- everything -- was just so, so good."

"I didn't know much about the restaurant going in, but I knew that once I got there, they were doing something special and unique, and that they had a strong team, all of which is important to me," explains Austin, who says that her desserts are "classics that bring you back to your childhood -- but have fun spins."

Her goal, she says, is to be in Denver by next weekend, and Barto insists that her culinary prowess with pastries will force him to up his own game. "Her desserts are ridiculously good, and we're all super-stoked about it, but I'm going to have to keep with her. She's definitely going to push me me work really hard on my savory menu," he says, adding that "when we open the doors and start accepting money, we all want to kill it."

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