Denver diners have likely enjoyed desserts by pastry chef Nadine Donovan over the past dozen years. Even if they don't know her by name, they know her by taste: She's been plating beautiful desserts and sweetening the scene at some of the city's top restaurants since graduating from Johnson & Wales University in 2009. But now she's leaving Denver behind for new adventures.
Donovan has worked for the Secret Sauce restaurant group for the past six years, making everything from sandwich rolls to ice cream for Vesta, Steuben's and Ace Eat Serve. "I loved Vesta because it's where I expressed myself most artistically," the pastry chef notes. "And I'm proud of introducing housemade ice cream at Steuben's and all the housemade mix-ins. At Ace, I just started doing Thai rolled ice cream."
Donovan notes that embracing challenges is part of what it takes to be successful in her chosen profession. "Pastry chefs have to be diverse and have to be willing to do different things in their careers — make bread, roll pasta — to succeed," she says. "I've focused on sourcing locally and working in scratch kitchens."
But beyond cooking, "the number-one thing I'm most proud of beyond the food is all the work we've done with nonprofits like Urban Peak and Work Options for Women," Donovan says. "And working with the Growhaus for Harvest Week has been amazing."
Secret Sauce founder Josh Wolkon adds to the list of her accomplishments. "Nadine has always brought a positive energy to Secret Sauce and used her skills to support countless nonprofit organizations," he says, citing her work with Feeding the Frontlines, the Delores Project and C.O.R.E., Girls Inc., Access Opportunity, the Clyfford Still Foundation, Great Chefs of the West for Kidney Foundation and Slow Food Nation.
Donovan got her start in sweets even before she attended culinary school, back when she was a gelato scooper at Parisi, where she became interested in professional cooking. After Johnson & Wales, she was the opening pastry chef at Fuel, where chef/owner Bob Blair challenged her creativity by changing the menu every week. After that, she moved to Portland, Oregon, for a year and a half to work at a bread bakery before returning to Denver to open Old Major with chef Justin Brunson. "I loved being a part of that, because there was so much vibrance and excitement around it," she recalls.
Donovan's partner recently accepted a brewing job in Asheville, North Carolina, where they're hoping to purchase farm property. Donovan will be moving there later this year — but that still gives us a few months of desserts to look forward to before she winds up her position with Secret Sauce in May. "Secret Sauce realizes Nadine cannot be replaced, but we hope there is an aspiring pastry chef out there who wants to take advantage of a life-changing opportunity to train with one of Denver’s best over the next couple of months," Wolkon adds.
In the meantime, Donovan will continue to innovate while taking a little time to cross some items off her bucket list of things to do and see in Colorado, which she's called home for the past 29 years. Recently, it was Skate City and ice skating on Evergreen Lake, and she's also planning on hitting the Fort Collins restaurant scene and making excursions to Telluride and Ouray.
Parting is such sweet sorrow, but we wish Donovan the best of luck in her future pastry endeavors. Here are more photos of pastry chef Nadine Donovan over the past several years:
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