Pastry Chef Shannon Swindle
Craft | Dallas
Pastry Chef Shannon Swindle credits his family of adventurous
foodies and Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters with inspiring
his passion for the kitchen. His career as a pastry chef is a very
unlikely one, given Swindle’s type 1 diabetes, but out of
necessity he discovered a talent: creating desserts that are focused
on the natural sweetness of high-quality seasonal ingredients.
Intrigued by the restaurant industry but with no formal
training, Swindle began his career by volunteering in a professional
kitchen. His love for pastry emerged at the first restaurant he
worked in, under the guidance of Austin mentor chefs, Lisa and Emmett
After moving back to Dallas in 1995, he became the
assistant pastry chef at Stephan Pyles’ Star Canyon,
and then pastry chef at The Mansion at Turtle Creek with Dean Fearing.
Surrounded by talented chefs, Swindle developed a deep appreciation
for balanced desserts that weren’t overwhelmed with refined
sugar, and became interested in refining his technique.
From there Swindle moved on to open Kent Rathbun’s
Abacus, and after to Craft, where Swindle's incredible
technical execution and precision shine through in his unpretentious
creations - from the basic croissant baked a dark golden brown with
a firm crust and tender, yeasted center to the almost savory composed
plate of ricotta cheesecake seasoned with pieces of goat butter
brittle and milky froth. His baked-to-order honey tuiles reveal
Swindle's focus on perfecting classic pastry techniques and remind
us how the underappreciated translucent crisps can be a serious
experience in texture and flavor. Each of his desserts elevates
the ordinary to bring our attention to an ingredient that can be,
at least when Swindle is serving it, truly special and at the height
of its possibility.
AB: Where have you worked professionally
as a pastry chef?
SS: I started my career volunteering
in Austin in 1994 with Lisa and Emmet Fox at a restaurant called
612 W. that's since closed. Lisa was the pastry chef there
and I was completely blown away by her desserts. The next year I
moved back to Dallas and worked at Star Canyon on
both pastry and the hot line but really started to get into pastry
full-time. From there I went to The Mansion on Turtle Creek
for 2 years and Abacus for 2 years after that. I had great
interactions with all of these chefs. We worked closely and they
taught me a lot, which prepared me for my move to Craft.
AB: Who are some of your mentors?
What have you learned from them?
SS: James Wagner taught me
a lot about the value of technique and seasoning, like how to use
salt in pastry. I started on the line at Star Canyon with
Stephan Pyles after one year of experience. One night I added blackberries
to an apple spice cake. When Stephan asked why I did that I said
that I thought the dish needed some color. He told me that blackberries
had no place on the plate. He taught me a lot about control and
AB: What question gives you
the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for
a position in your kitchen?
SS: I look for passion and
excitement over experience. I ask interviewees technical questions;
I actually have a written test with questions like “how do
you make ice cream?” or “if you are baking a ten inch
cake and there is no specified cooking time, when do you check the
cake?” Another one is, “if a recipe calls for pecan
pieces and we are out of them, what do you do?” That particular
question tells me a lot about someone’s flexibility and ability
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
SS: Read a lot!
AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
SS: Rick Griggs, the pastry
chef at Abacus. Katherine Clapner at Stephan Pyles,
and Morgan Wilson at Bijoux.
AB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under
appreciated or under utilized?
SS: Salt! We use it on so many
different levels and at every cooking stage - from simple syrups
to finishing a fleur de sel caramel or a plated dessert.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
SS: I like caramel and salt. Chocolate, bananas, and cinnamon also
AB: You said that a sharp knife was your most indispensable kitchen
SS: We are not a particularly
gadgety kitchen so a sharp knife has to come in to play when other
more high tech tools might have been utilized.
AB: Describe a culinary technique
that you have either created of borrowed and used in an unusual
SS: The way we make our pate
brisée is pretty creative. We freeze the flour, drizzle in
fat, like bacon, duck or butter fat, that has been melted and cooled
and put the combination in to a mixer with a paddle. We then cut
in flattened, cold butter. We make the dough, chill it, put it through
a sheeter, and let it rest for four hours.
AB: You said that the Chez
Panisse Menu Cookbook
inspired you to become a chef. What do you appreciate most about
SS: I think that at the time
it was written it really opened eyes to how to eat seasonally, organically,
and locally. In 1975, not a lot of people were thinking about that
- and it's still so relevant now. I appreciate her focus on the
product over presentation - on substance over flash.
AB: Where would you like to
go for culinary travel?
SS: Italy, because they produce
such ingredient-focused dishes.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants-off the beaten path-in your
city? What is your favorite dish there? What are your favorite after
hour places and bars?
SS: Thai Noodles and Rice
for it’s great larb (minced chicken with chilies and lime).
Dodies has the best gumbo ever. Richardson is a great area
to go looking for good, authentic Vietnamese food.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry
SS: There is absolutely everything
going on right now. The options for a chef are amaxing. Personally
I’m into the minutiae of simplicity but I love that everything
is going on at once.
AB: What is your pastry philosophy?
SS: It’s all about the
product. If the only thing on your plate is cheesecake (and that
happens at Craft!), it has nothing to fall back on so it
had better be perfect.
AB: Which person in history would you most like to have dinner
SS: I would love to take Joni Mitchell out to dinner wherever she
wanted to go.
AB: If you weren’t a pastry chef what do you think you’d
SS: Maybe an interior designer
of some sort.
AB: What does ultimate success
mean for you? What will it look like for you?
SS: I think success is just
living in the present and being happy. And to be honest I feel successful
right now because I love my job and Craft is such a great
fit for me.
AB: How are you involved in
your local culinary community?
SS: I am involved in charities
I am passionate about Toast to Life. I have always been in involved
in Taste of Nation as well.
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