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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Chef's Choice: Wapango's Mary Harden

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2009 at 3:15 PM

click to enlarge Mary Harden, pastry chef at Chesterfield's Wapango. - ROBIN WHEELER
  • Robin Wheeler
  • Mary Harden, pastry chef at Chesterfield's Wapango.
When pastry chef Mary Harden was hired by Wapango (website) in 2007, it wasn't much different from any other hiring. "When I interviewed with the guy who hired me and told him what I wanted to do, he said, 'You know what? You're weird. I like you. I need a pastry chef.' I had my second interview with the owner, who said, 'So Chef says you're weird.'"

OK, so maybe not every industry values weirdness how the restaurant biz does. There aren't many professions that would overlook Harden's penchant for wearing mismatched socks on purpose. But it's that same irreverence that's made Harden, 32, a natural among mountains of dough that beg to be turned into much more.

click to enlarge Harden prepares her cinnamon rolls. - ROBIN WHEELER
  • Robin Wheeler
  • Harden prepares her cinnamon rolls.
She invited me to the restaurant on a Monday morning: "I thought if you come in the morning while I'm making the bread, we can have coffee, and I could make cinnamon rolls with the leftover dough. Just like mom used to make. Yeah, right. My mom never made cinnamon rolls from scratch. She used the whack-'em kind."

click to enlarge The cinnamon rolls, er, rolled and ready to go in the oven. - ROBIN WHEELER
  • Robin Wheeler
  • The cinnamon rolls, er, rolled and ready to go in the oven.
Harden's rolls are far from those refrigerator-aisle pressure bombs. Instead of smothering them in sugar, Harden focuses on maintaining the soft texture and flavor of the dough's yeast, going heavy on the butter and using a light hand with the brown sugar. They would have been fine without any topping, but she opted to ladle the restaurant's caramel sauce over the fresh-from-the-oven rolls, a perfect companion to rich black coffee.

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