Danielle Snow walked into my life one lunch service, over a year ago. She had applied for the pastry cook position I had posted, and took it upon herself to come in and express her interest in person. It takes guts to cold call a chef, in person. It must, because I’ve rarely seen it done. Half an hour after Danielle walked in, we were finishing up an impromptu interview, scheduling a trail for her to come in and officially audition for the position. A week later, she was putting her notice in at her two other pastry jobs, getting ready to begin a working relationship with me, one that eventually shed light on her own aspirations to be a food writer. When I stepped out of the pastry department and decided to open this space up for others to shine light on their own pastry paths, it seemed a natural fit to invite Danielle. Follow along with her own adventures, sharing what a pastry department looks like from the cooks point of view.
Danielle’s interest in pastry arts was piqued while her family was transplanted from Texas to Belgium, an enviable time spanning most of her teens. Her sophomore year in high school, a friend turned her onto pastry specific food blogs. Realizing baking and pastry was actually a legit career, she immediately apprenticed in local bakery for the remaining 3 months she was overseas, before her family moved back to the states. While she began studying in a traditional college, she transferred to Kendal in Chicago, a culinary school that offered her the opportunity to complete her bachelors while simultaneously studying the culinary arts. Danielle began broadening her horizons by staging in different restaurants and bakeries around chicago. She took her first job at a chicago darling, a restaurant called Small Bar, cooking savory food, slinging brunch. The chef at Small Bar knew Danielle was interested in desserts, and helped her attain a stage at the perennial favorite, Lula cafe. Her stage quickly led to a position in the pastry department. While at Lula Danielle took a second job as a pastry cook at Stephanie Izards restaurant, Girl and the Goat. When she left these two coveted positions behind it was to join the pastry department at Blackbird. While there, and with the chef’s encouragement (that’s me!) Danielle took a part time job expanding her chocolate skills at Veruca Chocolate. As her responsibilities grew at Blackbird she laid down her chocolate tools and today is currently focusing on working with the new Pastry Chef, Nicole Guinni as she transitions the pastry department you’ve read so much about on this site, to become her own.
Without further adieu, meet Danielle!
What is your name, and what is your current position?
Danielle Snow, just like John Snow. Except for the whole bastard thing. I’m a pastry cook at Blackbird restaurant in Chicago.
What was the first dessert you ever made?
In a restaurant setting or in a life setting?
In life, the earliest thing I can remember is helping my mom make chocolate pudding, like a real stove top pudding. It was fast and easy, from one of those old betty crocker cookbooks. We ate it while it was still hot, and I really enjoyed that we whipped fresh cream and put it on top. I was actually talking to my mom about it recently, asking her if she still had the recipe book. I remember it had a whole lot of butter, and no cornstarch.
Professionally, I wasn’t yet a pastry cook. I was at my first job at Small Bar, where we made pretty simple desserts, and we had a really delicious butterscotch pot de crème. At that point I already knew I wanted to persue pastry, so the pot de crème was my little pet project. I took a lot of pride in it. I used to have that recipe in a notebook from that restaurant with a lot of delicious things, like a recipe for biscuits titled “bad ass flaky biscuits” but I lost that book. I need to track down somebody with those recipes.
Did you go to pastry school, and where?
I went to culinary school. I went to Kendal and earned a culinary certificate, so it’s like a year long program. I’m glad I went to school, my experience was maybe a little unconventional, I went to Kendal because I could finish a business degree and also study culinary. I was in a class with a lot of career changers, mostly over 30’s, but the culinary school was the perfect amount of school for cooking, specifically.
What was the worst thing you made in pastry school, or any other hilarious disasters we can laugh about?
When I went to culinary school I was newly vegetarian and really fierce about it. I knew there would be a point when I would have to cook meat, but I didn’t realize how emotional I would be when I broke down a chicken. I was feeling a lot of “this goes against my values” but at the same time I knew it was an important hurdle. I did not elect to taste any meat while I was there, which is crazy to me now, because it was all we were cooking, these French delicacies like foie gras and terrines.
I remember I was the only person who wasn’t grossed out by beef tartar with egg on it, I grew up in Belgium and was used to seeing it there.
What was your first pastry job?
My first pastry job was working at Lula café! It was, I would say ideal. I was in love with the restaurant itself, it was challenging, but the pastries were not at a level where I couldn’t understand them. Sometimes it’s crazy to think what a beginner I was when I started there. But it was a great place to make mistakes, I was really supported by the team there. They have a Monday night farm dinner, and the chef has to come up with an entirely new plated dessert every week. I was exposed to a lot, and that kind of constant shifting teaches you how to adapt to a new item coming on the menu on a regular basis.
What has been your favorite job so far?
Um, blackbird! So many reasons. It’s hard because I almonst get a little emotional about it, and it’s hard to talk about it without it sounding clinical. No one had really asked my opinions about things before. It gave me access to some of the best mentors and leaders, and I worked with some of the best cooks. It was also very interesting because its’ the only job I’ve looked at from afar for a long time. I had billed it as my dream job, and I think about what it means when you’re actually working your dream job.
Do you have someone you consider a mentor?
Krystal Swendson was a really big mentor for me, she was the sous chef when I started at blackbird. I learned to take on responsibility, instead of waiting for someone to tell me what to do all the time. I learned the importance of organization, I know it’s such a basic thing but it gets left by the wayside so often. She was so good at guiding people, leading by good example, and creating beautiful desserts.
Why did you choose this career path to begin with?
When I first started school, I wanted to persue a career in writing. But as I went through school it increasingly seemed like a vague thing to aspire to, I didn’t know what direction I wanted to take writing towards. My sophomore year in high school someone introduced me to food blogs, and there was one specific blog called Foodbeam, written by a girl who worked as a pastry chef. It was almost like I had never considered being a pastry chef an option, but I was really inspired.
Have you done any stages? Where? What did you learn there?
Yeah, a lot. My first stage was foray in to pastry was when I was in Belgium, and I was so taken with this idea of being a pastry chef that I became an apprentice in a fourth generation Belgian bakery. They made traditional breads, viennoiserie, entremet cakes, and it taught me how much work it actually is.
Here in Chicago I staged at Nelcote, Hot Hhocolate, Vanille Patisserie, and the vegetarian restaurant Green Zebra. Many of those one day stages were either because I was interested in a job or a friend worked there and encouraged me. I think stages are important because they are windows into other kitchens, and help inform your opinions and decisions, and you definitely learn what it’s like to be the underdog.
Name one of your favorite cookbooks.
The one I go back to a lot is the bouchon bakery book. There is such a wide variety of things in there. I made their hot cross buns for staff meal the other day. I hope people enjoyed them, I tend to leave staff meal on the table and walk away. I love making yeast raised doughs, it’s such an interactive process and I feel a lot of instant gratification because you can see the process working.
If you had any advice to the younger version of yourself, what would it be?
Keep doing what you’re doing but save more money. It’s kind of boring but it’s true. It’s hard to save on a cooks wage but I can do it. So much about being a young cook is about living in the moment. But there comes a time when you’d really rather be taking big steps from your own means.
Restaurant, hotel, bakery, or beyond? What’s your niche?
For now, restaurant, for sure. I’d like to see how far I can get in restaurants. I think for me there is infinite possibility to be creative. I’m also drawn to the people who work in restaurants. I like the life style. Surprisingly. For now.
What was the last dessert you ate?
When I was recently back in texas, I don’t know if this counts, but my grandma was sick and someone did that lovely thing where they bring an ill person a dessert. It’s a lost art. It was a boxed yellow cake mix with strawberry frosting with coconut on top. It was really sweet, and really delicious. It tasted very familiar too.
And most importantly, do you have any pets, what are their names?
My roommate has a pet, her name is Ginger, she’s a little orange haired cat from PAWS. She’s the sweetest cat I’ve ever met, so affectionate. She doesn’t mind wearing costumes, that’s how easy going she is. My roommate is always making neclaces for her. I guess you’d call them collars, but with beads on them. We did it once thinking there’s no way it would stay on her but she wore it all day. We keep talking about what her costume is going to be for halloween, and we are thinking batman, so like “batcat.”