Pastry Chef Katherine Clapner
Stephan Pyles | Dallas
Katherine Clapner is the fearless pastry chef at Stephan
Pyles whose bold presentations and flavor combinations are
unexpected but successful. Katherine draws from Pyles' savory pantry
of Peruvian corn, saffron, fennel pollen, Mahleeb, coriander seeds,
and white balsamic gel to create whimsical, almost Dr. Seuss-like
plates that draw the eye to a tower of dusted doughnuts, spirals
of crispy Peruvian Ponderaciones, and generous quenelles of ice
cream that teeter between sweet and savory. Katherine replaces sugar
with agave syrup for fruity, sugar-free desserts that are true to
her well-defined culinary philosophy. Clapner wrote the dessert
chapter of Southwestern Vegetarian with Stephan Pyles and developed
the sugar-free desserts for Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Zero. Katherine
credits Shayne Gorring for sharing his sense of fun and boundlessness
Clapner first began her working relationship with
Stephan Pyles at Star Canyon, AquaKnox, and Taqueria
Canonita, but before she was developing the desserts to accompany
his wide array of cuisines, the Dallas native attended the University
of Texas at Arlington and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of
America in New York, where she earned an Associates Degree in baking
and pastry. Her first kitchen position was as Pantry Chef at Sam's
Café in Dallas, which led to later stints under chefs
Charlie Trotter and Kevin Graham.
Most recently serving as Pastry Chef at the new
Hilton Hotel in Austin, Clapner was responsible for the pastry department's
culinary direction, including oversight of the menu at the hotel's
two restaurants, Liberty Tavern and Finn & Porter,
and the coffee shop, Java Coast, as well as food service
for the 800-room hotel and event catering for up to 3,000. Prior
to serving in that position, she spent five years at Central
Market working on the corporate side of culinary business development
and store openings in Texas, as well as creating new dessert items
for the Dallas area locations. Before that Clapner held pastry chef
positions at The Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, Hotel Cipriani
in Venice, The Savoy Hotel in London, and Mansion at Judges
Hill, Ranch 616, and Liberty Tavern and Finn
& Porter at the Hilton Hotel in Texas.
TR: How did you get started
as a pastry chef?
KC: I sent out 20 letters to
the top hotels in Europe offering to work for room and board. I
got 10 responses and landed a job at the Savoy Hotel in London in
1989. The Savoy sent me to The Windsor and it's been a series of
lucky events, just being at the right place at the right time since
then. Later I worked under chef Kevin Graham and The Grill Room
of Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans. Finding both of these
jobs were great moments of luck. I’ve held Pastry Chef positions
at Charlie Trotter's, Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Splendido
in Portofino, and a lot of places around Dallas.
TR: Who are some of your mentors?
What have you learned from them?
KC: Shane Gorring of Covington
has a world of pastry knowledge and shared it with me. Stephan (Pyles)
has really broadened my horizons and refined my style.
TR: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re
interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer
are you looking for?
KC: Personality is my main
concern. In a small kitchen, skills can be learned but personality
TR: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
KC: Take any and every opportunity
to get into restaurants. Try as many desserts and dishes as you
possibly can. You have to dine at a place before you can really
commit to working there. Make sure you really look at a place before
you get too deeply involved in it.
TR: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
KC: I want to eat at Craft
because its simple but on the money. I really like what the chef
at La Duni is doing as well.
TR: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under
appreciated or under utilized?
KC: I like to use Mahleeb seed
which is like a cross between violets and marzipan. I like to use
savory things like fennel pollen, white balsamic gel, and herbs
that aren’t too sweet. You want the diner to leave the restaurant
with a tiny sugar fix but there should be a good balance in a dessert.
TR: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
KC: White corn and chocolate,
rose water and cocoa nibs, orange flower water with agave syrup,
and chestnut honey with layered citrus notes.
TR: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
KC: My hands are really the
best tool I have - that and Stephan's brain!
TR: What are your favorite cookbooks?
KC: The New International
Confectioner Cookbook has every possible thing you could want
or need. My mentor Shane introduced me to it. It really takes an
old-school, gnarly approach to baking.
TR: Where would you like to
go for culinary travel? Why?
KC: Spain or Peru to cook, eat, and learn.
TR: What languages do you speak?
TR: What are your favorite
restaurants-off the beaten path-in your city?
KC: York Street. Sharon
is great and everything she puts out is absolutely fantastic. It
could never be anything but perfect. Morgan at Bijoux is
TR: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry
KC: Trends are a little contrived
I think. Everyone sees the same Iron Chef and suddenly goes, “Oh
Marshmallows! Must be the new hot thing!” I do see more crossing
over and innovative cooking though, which is great.
TR: What is your pastry philosophy?
KC: Get the best ingredients. Don’t use a basic lemon when
you can use something more interesting.
TR: Which person in history would you most like to have dinner
KC: I'd like to have family
dinner with Edna Lewis!
TR: If you weren’t a pastry chef what do you think you’d
KC: I can’t even imagine. This is all I want to do.
TR: What does success mean
for you? What will it look like for you?
KC: I want to keep doing what
I'm doing and hopefully do it well!
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