Fortunately for the world of pastry, 2011 New York Rising Star Pastry Chef Shawn Gawle was exposed to the restaurant world at an impressionable young age. Growing up just outside of Boston, Gawle would often help out at his father’s restaurant/deli, where he quickly developed a passion for the energy and vitality of the industry.
Formally trained as a savory cook at the New England Culinary Institute, Gawle spent years working in some of America's most highly regarded kitchens. He began his career in Chicago, under Rick Tramonoto at Tru. In 2004, he moved to Philadelphia and was named sous chef atLacroix at the Rittenhouse, where Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix served as one of his greatest mentors and piqued Gawle’s initial interest in pastry. Gawle then assisted Laurent Gras in opening Bistro du Vent in New York before being recruited for the opening of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.
In 2007, Gras re-recruited Gawle back from Robuchon to join the opening team at L2O. Aware of Gawle’s pastry curiosity, Gras allowed him to spearhead the dessert program. And in 2008, with no formal pastry training, Gawle proved his natural pastry prowess with a nomination for the 2008 Jean Banchet Rising Pastry Chef of the Year Award. In 2009, Chef Grégory Pugin named Gawle executive pastry chef at New York’s Veritas, where Gawle’s mastery of classic French technique freed him to channel his creativity and push boundaries with his desserts. And in September of 2010, Gawle joined the team at Paul Liebrandt’s Corton, a pastry prodigy firmly—and finally—ensconced in his proper place on the sweeter side of fine dining.
Interview with Pastry Chef Shawn Gawle of Corton – New York, NY
Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Shawn Gawle: I always had fun doing it. My dad did it, and I was always around. And I figured you might as well enjoy your career. It’s an industry where you keep learning. I started in savory and then used those percentages to go to pastry—it was extremely humbling.
AB: You were a savory cook, who took his skills to the pastry world. How do you think pastry skills translate to the savory side?
SG: You can tell night and day, Laurent [Gras] and Paul [Liebrandt] are better because they have pastry experience. Curtis Duffy did pastry. You have a different respect. You go back to garde manger, and you’re a better cook.
AB: If you had one thing you could do over again, what would it be?
SG: Do over? I don't have many regrets. I wish I’d traveled when I was younger. Spain and Asia. Yeah, you never get time off. You have to do it between jobs. For the longest time, I never went to Europe because I always thought I needed three months or a month. I just went for my birthday. A friend was in Geneva. I went up the German side of Switzerland.
AB: What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your career to date?
SG: The hardest is balance. When I moved to Chicago, it was the best and worst experience. I love Laurent [Gras], but I worked six days, 16 hours a day. I only had one friend. We got a drink once a week. The balance was something we talked about. [Laurent] wanted me to do sports. I looked into doing some stuff. It’s good to read a book in your life that’s not culinary or go for a run. But it’s extremely difficult.
AB: Where do you fit into your culinary community?
SG: I could be more involved. That’s something I’ve talked about. Getting involved in Slow Food. I go to the farmers' market three days a week and have a good relationship with them.
AB: If you weren’t a pastry chef, what do you think you’d be doing?
SG: I guess to work for myself. I’ve always wanted to do a pastry [place] and run the whole place. It’s hard. As much as I would love to do a dessert place, I don’t know if things are there just yet. I want my own place, where I can control and manage all aspects. I love the coast of Portland, Maine. And if I have a small enough place, I could continue cooking.