I met Amanda Rockman over bowls of boiled chicken and rice, Hianese style, curled up on upholstered dining room chairs next to each other. It was an evening of the kind of laughter that contorts your face, cramps your stomach, and otherwise leaves you feeling drained in the best way possible. We might have left it at that, the occasional social gathering, but then she took the position as opening pastry chef for Nico Osteria in Chicago, a restaurant within the same group as Blackbird, where I was working at the time. Until her kitchen actually existed, she spent mornings in my little pastry department, trailing cooks, testing recipes, and making desserts for preview events. It was then that we bonded over our cats, Katy Perry, mutual respect for eachothers desserts, and general love of laughter.
Her career path has taken her from California, to Austin, to Chicago, and finally, back to Austin, with a trail of delicious desserts of her own making left behind. Her Basque cake has it’s own cult following, and her tiramisu broke every rule, and inspired a dessert of my own. She can run the heck out of a department, and has been a mentor the flock of pastry cooks that follow her from property to property.
She’s really an amazing woman my friends. She’s put as much attention into her desserts as she has her career path, which has been calculated to take her exactly where she wanted to go. I feel sometimes shame is cast on calculating chefs, the general opinion being that we must slave for the craft with no hope of anything in return except more opportunity to give everything and take nothing in a grander arena. This is just not true. Financial compensation can distract you from a true education if you make it your priority, so you must choose your positions with care, making sure they offer you the kind of education you can build upon. After years of building a foundation of true, working knowledge, if you’ve educated yourself correctly, you’re deserving of paycheck to match.
Apologies, for a short rant. It was all meant to bring me to one of my favorite Amanda Rockman moments, when she describes the invisible T-shirt she’s wearing. It says, “I am not a non-profit organization.” It makes me laugh every time, and Amanda is such a great example to young chefs, particularly women who can get unintentionally steamrolled by employers, event planners, the media, who are doing what we all do, looking out for their own interests. In fact, she’s an amazing example for me as well.
That is why I am beyond excited to begin reading the blog Amanda has started writing called Pastrialandia, so I can continue to be inspired by her amazing work, and look up to her for an example of the kind of chef I want to be.
Without further adieu, an interview with the amazing Amanda Rockman.
What is your name, and what is your current position?
Amanda Eve Rockman and I am the Executive Pastry Chef of The South Congress Hotel: Café No Se, Central Standard, Manana, Stephen F. Frostin Ice Cream.
What was the first dessert you ever made?
I’m fairly certain it was a brownie box mix when I was 11. I know, not all that compelling. However, I can mix up a brownie box mix in less than 5 minutes.
Come on, time me.
Did you go to school, and where?
I went to The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
What was your first job in a pastry department?
My first real pastry job was at Farallon in San Francisco under Pastry Chef Emily Luchetti. I was incredibly lucky to have learned from her at such a young age- I constantly ask myself “What Would Emily Do” (WWED)
What has been the most pivitol job so far?
That may be impossible for my to answer- every job has left me with some lesson that it would be unfair to pick…but if I had to…..Nico. That was my first hotel opening and once I did that I felt I could do anything. (note to reader: in any opening you often times drink too much caffeine, eat too much sugar, don’t get enough or any sleep so often times you have feelings of grandeur that anything is possible. However- still feels great to successfully open a hotel.)
Why did you choose this career path to begin with?
I originally wanted to be a writer- a film writer. Then I realized I liked to write for fun and what I thought I did for fun I actually wanted to do for a living. Bake.
I was going to Emerson College for film and writing and on weekends working at Radius for free (a fine dining restaurant in Boston). I also went on bakery tours on my own in Boston on weekends when kids where going out to da club. The writing was pretty much on the wall.
What was the last dessert you ate?
A chocolate cream filled yeasted donut with candied cocoa rice krispies, glorious chocolate glaze that hugs the donut just right. My sous chef is R&Ding a new donut and I got to eat the fruits of her efforts. I know- my job is awful.
If you could teach young pastry cooks one lesson from your own time in the trenches, what would it be?
It takes time- the road to becoming a chef. Don’t rush it because you really do need that journey to learn new techniques, how to deal with others, different styles, etc. It will come- I promise.
Have you ever written a blog before?
I had a blog with my sister called Bitter Chick Bakery. I was a lot younger and dealing with younger chef issues, traveling, and dating in Chicago. A strange fun mix….
What inspired you to write Pastrylandia?
I get so many questions as a chef- especially since I have such a large staff. How do I make this? How do I tell a fellow co-worker I don’t appreciate them not doing the freezer inventory correctly? What is food cost? Why do you have BEO meetings? Does lemon go with Devonshire cream and can it be heated? Are the only jobs out there hotel pastry cook jobs?
So. Many. Questions.
So, I wanted to start answering some of them and broadening the perspective of our industry. There is so much more than sugar, butter, flour.
Enter: Pastrylandia- a platform to write about anything in my world of pastry. Now- that means I can write about really anything since I live in this world- but most of it will be related to my profession.
And Beyonce, of course.
Who is your target audience and what do you hope they will get out of your posts?
I hope to reach out to professionals- newly minted cooks to individuals with 25 years in the field, to home cooks or someone who just enjoys good writing. I really hope they just enjoy the topics Pastrylandia covers- from organization, to recipes, guest posts from a badass chef becoming a mom, to a chef dealing with addiction. Individuals who are interested in not only how to become a chef but sometimes the hards truths of what it is like to be a chef.
When you are creating desserts, where do you look for inspiration?
I look to what is in season first. The availability of local product really helps me hone in on to what I’m feeling at the moment. I also go thru obsession points- its vinegar, then confitting EVERYTHING, then what can I put in the ISI container, to meringue- what can I possible add to it?? It’s always different- and always fun.
And most importantly, do you have any pets, and what are their names. Tell us everything.
Now to the GOOD part- yes. I am a mother of one cat, Charles. Also known as Sir Charles, The Devil, Nasty Man. I feel that there is a scientific reason 90% of the pastry chefs I know have cats. Looking to you scientists….