Editor's note: Mary Boehne is the pastry sous chef at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown St. Louis and its restaurant, Cielo (999 North Second Street; 314-881-5800). Before that she worked as a line cook at Winslow's Home and at the Four Seasons in Vail, Colorado. Today marks the beginning of her semi-regular column Real Life of a Pastry Chef. We asked her to introduce herself with a simple explanation of her job. Take it away, Mary.
It's not every day that I have the opportunity to explain what it is that I do. Most people hear "pastry chef" and they think fancy cakes, desserts and Butter Braids. While that may be true, there are many more responsibilities that go along with the prestigious title.
I hear the whispers of how we are a "dying breed." Over the years I have seen our numbers dwindle to just a few. But I refuse to see it as dying off, just a "concentration" of our talent. But more on that later.
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My day begins with an overflowing e-mail inbox. The messages are a mix of special requests and last-minute cake orders, and I am constantly going back and forth with purchasing, making sure all of my ingredients are ordered. After tending to the needs of my colleagues and getting updated on the operations of the hotel, I spend time with my cooks getting the updates on what is going on in the shop. We are considered a fairly small pastry shop, with just six workers total including myself, and together we serve the guests (sometimes dozens, sometimes hundreds) who stay and dine at the Four Seasons.
What most people might not realize is that the pastry shop is responsible for a lot more than the frou-frou desserts on the dinner menu. Every morning there are at least a handful of special amenities that we create and design specific to guests' requests. I am also in charge of daily banquets and writing menus that can be for parties of 5 to up to 800 -- everything from small bridal showers to full-service, plated-dinner galas. Other responsibilities include room service, cake design, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and pool service in the summer.
On top of that, when something goes wrong, such as a misplaced clothing item in a room or a husband who's forgotten his wife's birthday, the pastry shop gets the phone call to put a pretty Band-Aid on it and make it all better. If guests have glitches, the common practice is to send them something special -- like chocolate truffles, special logo cookies or chocolate-covered strawberries. I enjoy treating people, and these requests keep me on my toes with the constant demand for creativity.
The so-called "moment of truth," as explained in management school, is the first experience a guest has with an establishment. It sets the tone of a diner's experience. The moment of truth occurs at bread service, the very beginning of the meal.
Click through to find out more about why pastry chefs are considered an "endangered species" and for more photos of Mary's creations.