Women Wednesday: Executive Pastry Chef

Nothing makes us happier than to be able to share inspirational women with our readers, but it’s even more exciting when it’s someone who you’ve actually seen their success grow over the years. Dallas and Vikki both graduated from Johnson and Wales University and although they were in different schools, when Vikki met Dallas she knew she would go far in life. This interview is very inspirational and focuses on a Culinary Arts career that is mostly men driven. Dallas talks about how she overcame her trials to become one of Miami’s most renowned Executive Pastry Chef at the age of twenty-two. You will certainly be inspired!

Tell us about yourself:

I am born and raised in Florida. I grew up in a very small town on the east coast called Palm City I lived in the same house my entire life until I moved to Miami to go to Johnson and Wales University.  I have always loved cooking thanks to my parents who are both very good cooks and raised me to be an adventurous eater. They always encouraged me to try new things and if I did not like it the first time to give it at least one more chance. Growing up I was always involved in sports and after school activities so now I like to stay active by running. I have a German Shephard/Rotti mix who loves coming along. When I am not at work I try to spend as much time outside as possible whether it is kayaking, hanging out at the beach, making trips out to our purveyors farms when possible, or anything else that can keep me in the fresh air. This year I have set a goal to travel as much as possible. I think that traveling is essential to grow as a person and even more necessary in my career where cultural influences can really set your food apart from others. Hopefully this year I will make it to at least 6 new destinations to explore new areas, cultures, and beliefs. 

When did you know, you wanted to pursue a career in Culinary Arts, particularly the Pastry industry?

I decided that I would pursue a career in Culinary Arts my Sophomore year of high school after being involved in the Culinary Education class that my school offered beginning in my freshmen year. I am a very competitive person and was offered the opportunity to compete at a ProStart competition with other classmates and fell in love with cooking. I started at Johnson and Wales University in 2012 and pursued a degree in Culinary Arts. Shortly after moving to Miami I began working for the Genuine Hospitality Group as a prep cook at Harry’s Pizzeria. I have always believed that no matter what your job is you should work as hard as possible. Hedy Goldsmith approached me one day and asked if I had ever thought about learning pastry which at the time I had not and offered me a chance to work in her department over at Michael’s Genuine. Shortly after starting with Hedy Goldsmith I realized how different Pastry was from Savory and my passion began to grow immensely I loved that you were turning ingredients as simple as flour, butter and eggs into such widely diverse products. 

Tell us about your experience at Johnson and Wales University and how you believe this education helped you get where you are today.

Attending Johnson and Wales university was a long thought out decision for me. I visited other schools, weighted my options like all soon to be College kids and decided on Johnson and Wales University because I truly believe that their program is the best in the country for Culinary Arts. I know that by attending JWU many doors have been opened that typically I wouldn’t be exposed to. The instructors are truly there to help you and expand your knowledge and your ability to perform outside of the class room. There are two teachers that I can really say attributed to the Chef that I have become today and they are Chef Bergman and Chef LaCastra both are teachers that have a reputation for being strict with hard classes and I enjoy being challenged and having to work for what you get. After graduating with my Associates degree, I decided to continue on for an additional year to earn my bachelor’s degree so that I would have more of a business background to help further my career. Both while attending and after graduating I have experienced an amazing network that is provided by attending JWU. 

You are now the Executive Pastry Chef for Ariete, tell us about your journey to get where you are now.

I have been very lucky in my career to have worked under amazing mentors and people that have pushed me to work my hardest every day. My career in pastry arts started when I began working for Hedy Goldsmith a James Beard Nominated Pastry Chef and the Queen of the Miami Pastry world. Making the transition from savory to pastry was an interesting path but having a savory background has helped me think about desserts in a well-rounded manner. After working for Hedy I joined the team at Thierry’s Catering as their pastry sous chef. When I was offered the position at Ariete I was timid, being an executive pastry chef is a LOT of responsibility that I wasn’t sure if I was ready for. Thankfully I took a leap of faith and jumped on board with Michael Beltran, Jason Odio, and a team of very talented individuals. I could have never imagined that this journey would bring me here but it has made me grow so much as not only a chef, manager, and employee but as a person.

Miami recently voted you as the pastry Chef of the year (congrats!), how did you feel when you found out you were nominated and then won?

Miami has been very good to me these past five years and 2016 I was nominated for Pastry Chef of the year by Eater and was Awarded People’s Choice for the Eater Awards. Ariete has worked very hard since its conception to serve the highest quality food with exceptional service. The week that Miami Eater was announcing the nominees for 2016 our team had received nominations for multiple categories including restaurant of the year and chef of the year. Our entire team was in high spirits that week and when I was told that I had been nominated for Pastry Chef of the year I could not have felt more honored. It was amazing to see my name alongside Antonio Bachour someone that I have looked up to in my career, Doughnut Mastermind Max Santiago, and Maria Orantes the Executive Pastry chef for Pubbelly’s many outposts. As excited as I was for this nomination when I found out that Miami had voted me as their people’s choice Pastry Chef of the year I was in shock and have never felt more pride in my team and restaurant. Ariete is so different than any other restaurant I have worked for when it comes to pastry. Often you find three separate teams FOH, Pastry, and Savory but at Ariete everyone cares so much about our product, service and the restaurant that we have created one united team. This is truly what I attribute to our success. 

If you could tell your younger self an advice regarding your career, what would you say?

My advice would be to never think you are better than any task, person or position. You can learn something from everyone, your way is not always the best and if you aren’t constantly absorbing the information that is flowing around you in the kitchen you will stay stationary. In this industry, there is always new trends, techniques and ingredients and you must be a sponge to continue to grow and I think this applies to nearly every career. 

Having worked in the hospitality industry myself, I often heard women saying that they had to “man up” to survive in a kitchen environment. What is your opinion on that and do you feel like you’ve had to prove to anyone your worth and talent?

It’s crazy to me that the Kitchen is still seen as a “Boys Club” but the reality of it is that it very much is so. Walking in to almost any kitchen the ratio of men to women is noticeable at the least. The kitchen is an animal and anyone male or women that walks in is expected to prove themselves, their worth, talent, dedication, skill, and knowledge. I have found throughout my career that the best way to get my foot in the door at an establishment is to put my head down and work as clean, efficient, and hard as possible. It’s not always about how much you know, where you have worked, or who you know but instead it is about following directions, staying organized and having a positive attitude. There will be cuts, burns, and bruises along the way and that is something that this career comes with so would I say that you need to “man up” to work in a kitchen not. What you do need to do is work to your full potential, be prepared to take responsibility for your actions, keep a few band aids and burn cream in your purse, but most importantly have Confidence. I think men are more likely to promote themselves and to show their confidence then women are and I think that is something that as a Women I have the power to change. Being a Chef is a hard job and I wear my Chef Coat with pride and confidence.

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