Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tyler Davis, Rising Star Pastry Chef, Loves Being Outside His Comfort Zone

Posted By on Tue, Jul 16, 2019 at 6:00 AM

Tyler Davis - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • Tyler Davis

If you look at the pastries made by Tyler Davis (tai-davis.com), you'd think he spent years training at the world's most elite pastry schools. But as this self-taught chef explains, he only stumbled into the craft about three years ago as a favor for a friend.

"My friend Josh Charles was the chef at Element, and he needed people to work," Davis recalls. "I told him I would be there in any capacity he needed and ended up working the line and garde manger. The sous chef was doing desserts at the time, and he was overwhelmed doing the regular menu and desserts. I told him I wanted to help, and at first they were like, 'Are you sure?' and I was. That's my jam — being thrown out of my comfort zone. It's where I do my best."

For Davis, the world of pastry was the creative outlet he'd been seeking for quite some time. For as long as he can remember, he was drawn to the arts. He combined that passion with his love of the outdoors and began drawing the pictures he'd find in nature books, eventually moving on to medical illustrations when he was in high school.



Davis thought he'd pursue medical illustration for his career but instead decided upon musical performance once he got to college. Around the same time, he got into modeling, a gig that landed him on runways across the country.

However, as much as he loved both paths, he still felt like he was waiting to find his way. He received a glimmer of clarity around 2015 when he began working at the wine bar, cafe and art space Tavern of Fine Arts. Though the setup was challenging — Davis was a one-man show tasked with putting out an ambitious menu with just a convection oven, a few hotplates and a microwave — he thrived in the environment and began to see the kitchen as a viable career.

"It was a position where I was comfortable and not comfortable all at the same time," Davis explains. "It was familiar food, but I had creative freedom, which led me to get a little bit more confident in myself. It was challenging, but it was a different kind of experience that made me grow up real fast. It really opened my eyes to the possibilities of the culinary world."

After the Tavern of Fine Arts closed and he found himself at Element, Davis took those possibilities to the next level, learning everything he could about pastry. He did research, read books by the field's best of the best and experimented, finding his voice along the way.

"I began looking at the aesthetic of the fine-dining pastry world, and it just blew my mind," Davis says. "I thought, 'That's what I need to be doing right now.'"

While at Element, Davis competed on the Food Network's Halloween Baking Competition, which confirmed his status as a rising star. It landed him the job of executive pastry chef at the Chocolate Pig in Cortex, where he developed an envelope-pushing dessert menu that received critical acclaim. But he still wanted more.

This May, he left his job at the Chocolate Pig to venture out on his own, a decision he admits is terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. Under the umbrella brand Tai Davis, he has launched three separate concepts at the intersection of art, design and culinary. Alchemy Bakery is his high-end pastry company, specializing in chocolates, macarons and avant garde event cakes. Ether is the consulting side of his business, where he offers his services to independent restaurateurs who need help with menu concept and execution. Finally, Sacred Geometry serves as his artistic platform, where he crafts cakes for exhibitions and art installations and showcases his food photography. It's also the platform through which he is publishing a coffee-table book of food and art that will be out in the fall.

"It's been a crazy move, but I feel that I have this fire burning underneath me and I have to do it," Davis says. "I read all these books that say you won't know until you try something. It's terrifying and probably the scariest thing I've ever done in my life, but that's what makes you grow as a person. When you push yourself to tell your story, you are pushing and inspiring others."

What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I don’t think a lot of people know how much of a classical music junkie I am. Baroque harpsichord, Shostakovich and anything with a dab of French Impressionism gets me going.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Every morning, I wake up to an inspirational song, meditate for about ten minutes to clear my head and make a list of things to do for the day. Lists are everything.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Oh, I think about this all of the time, and I usually flock towards flight or teleportation.

What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
People here are becoming a lot more adventurous. Their palates are craving new flavors, textures and cuisines, and I am here for it. The unsurmountable level of support from the community is awe-inspiring as well. I’ve seen so many people start from nothing and build successful businesses because people love what they do and what their brand encompasses. It’s incredible.

What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
I love open marketplaces, and I really wish we had one super-hub that features all that the Midwest has to offer. Don’t get me wrong, I love the smaller farmers' markets we have here. However, traveling to all of them can become overwhelming. I’ve also noticed a lot of really good producers and farmers do not get recognition or business because they operate out of some of the lesser-known markets. Just think about how inspiring and game changing it would be if St. Louis had its own Pike Place Market or Khan El-Khalili Bazaar.

Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Honestly, anyone here pushing boundaries or just creating really fantastic food. Loryn Nalic and her husband Edo at Balkan Treat Box, Rob Connoley [Bulrush] and Nick Bognar [Nippon Tei, Indo] would be my top three right now.

Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
I’d have to say Rob Connoley. We have so much talent here in St. Louis, but taking into account his aesthetic and originality, I’d say he’s going to do some epically delicious things this year.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Due to their versatility, I’d say eggs!

If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
Professional cellist.

Name an ingredient never allowed in your restaurant.
Just one? Ha! Iodized salt would have to be somewhere up there. That taste though!

What is your after-work hangout?
I love my alone time, so I’d say my couch with a glass of wine, or Castlewood State Park. I love hiking and being surrounded by nature.

What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
TACOS!

What would be your last meal on earth?
Tacos, LOL. Oh, or mole!

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com.
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