Cafe Society

Nadine Donovan, pastry chef of Old Major: "Bourbon makes everything better"

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How does chef Justin Brunson's menu influence your desserts? Justin loves good food, plain and simple, and I find his style and approach to cooking to be extremely grounded. He helps keep my head out of the clouds and puts good, solid flavors on the plate.

Is having a pastry chef separate from the executive chef important in a restaurant? I believe that having a pastry chef is very important. Savory chefs and pastry chefs have very different skill sets. I wouldn't expect an executive chef to be able to execute a perfect piece of pie, or for me to perfectly sear a piece of foie gras. Could we do it? Yes, but would it be the best? Probably not. Having separate departments in our kitchen allows us to really focus on our strengths and in turn create the best products. Having a pastry chef also gives restaurants like Old Major the opportunity to make their own bread in-house. Bread programs take time and dedication that many savory chefs just don't have. At Old Major, we make around 250 pretzel rolls per day.

Favorite dessert on your menu: My dessert menu is always changing, and so are my favorites. It all depends on what I'm in the mood for.

Biggest dessert fail: Tapioca pudding. It didn't sell. At all. The kitchen crew happily devoured it at the end of every night, though, so it wasn't a total fail.

Weirdest customer request: Just the other night, a gentleman asked for a grilled sausage on a pretzel roll for dessert. If I hadn't been too busy at the time, I would have given him a high-five.

Best baking tip for a home cook: Read, read and read some more. Knowledge is the best tool for professional chefs and home cooks alike. The more we know about ingredients and techniques, the greater the chance for success. No one ever said that baking is easy. I've made more mistakes than I can remember and burned myself more times than I can count, but it gets easier with a little self-education and practice. I promise.

What's your biggest pet peeve? Big egos. They get in the way of learning.

What's been your worst disaster in the kitchen? Many, many years ago, when I first started working with pastry in a professional kitchen, I thought it was a great idea to put banana cream pie on a dessert menu. Long story short, I undercooked the custard. When service rolled around, the executive chef realized my mistake, and while he screamed and screamed, I cried and cried. But it wasn't until later that I realized that the pies weren't even the biggest disaster -- our behavior was. The takeaway from that disaster was learning to communicate in a constructive manner, learning from past mistakes, tasting everything, and not crying over spilled milk. Just don't spill it again.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson