Chrysta Poulos didn’t start out like most chefs, who found their way to the top of the line by working the line itself. No, it wasn’t the kitchen sink that drew her to chef whites. Instead, Poulos began her winding career path with service in the U.S. Air Force, working on B1B bombers while her peers were probably perfecting their chopping skills. After retiring from the military, Poulos found herself astride in the civilian world, eventually picking up shifts as a server. Despite its (relative) disparity from military life, Poulos found she enjoyed the lifestyle, and enrolled at the Art Institute of Atlanta.
After receiving her culinary degree, Poulos worked her way through many of the serious kitchens in town, with an emphasis on the pastry and dessert side of the kitchen. As her career developed, Poulos worked as the pastry chef for some of Atlanta’s finest restaurants, including Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch, and Holeman & Finch Bread Company. She also helmed the sweet shop at 4th & Swift for two years.
Poulos is now head of the pastry kitchen at Woodfire Grill. A recent addition to the team, Poulos has introduced whole wheat bread and milk rolls to the menu as well as her signature sticky toffee pudding, which won local charity Adoption Discovery’s “People’s Choice” Award in 2011. For her playful menu, Poulos garners inspiration from everything from candy bars and food blogs to her own photography and painting. A long way from the armed services, but the only way for Poulos.
Interview with 2012 Atlanta Rising Star Pastry Chef Chrysta Poulos
Katherine Sacks: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Chrysta Poulus: Well I was in the military before, and I was a mechanic on B1B bombers. I had worked as a cook before and I didn’t know what I was going to do when I got out. I started waiting tables, and I really enjoyed helping out in the kitchen so I enrolled at the Art Institute. And that’s where it all started.
KS: Who are some of your mentors, and what have you learned from them?
CP: Definitely Linton Hopkins. His dedication to using local ingredients and his passion for Southern cuisine. And Kevin Gillespie basically for the same reasons. I worked with Taria Camerino, and she is really dedicated to using unprocessed sugars and unrefined things. I really respect that about her. And she’ll go out into the city and do urban foraging; she puts a lot of her self into her food.
KS: What are the three most important skills that you think a pastry chef needs?
CP: Organization, patience, and passion for what you do. It definitely comes through in what you make; I think you can taste it. If you don’t love what you do, I think you can taste it.
KS: Where do your desserts come from? What's your creative process?
CP: Sometimes it will stem from walking through a store and seeing a dish, other times it’s looking through books and seeing inspiration. It varies from dish to dish. The last one I put on my menu, I really wanted something super chocolaty, and I always like to have a good balance of textures, so I wanted to make sure all the textures are covered.
KS: What is your style as a pastry chef?
CP: I kind of like to make people reminisce about childhood. I like to make what people ate when they were younger, to evoke some sort of memory, that’s always a good thing.
KS: If you weren't a pastry chef, what would you be and why?
CP: Probably a photographer. I love taking pictures. I recently discovered Instagram, and I’ve been taking photos of what I do at work. I do drawing and painting, and I think it really helps when it comes to plating.
KS: Where will we find you in five years?
CP: I don’t know, maybe not in this country. I don’t really know what I want to be doing. I love working for chef-driven restaurants, I love to travel, but I don’t know if I want to stay in Atlanta. I want to learn all I can, that’s the only way I can continue keep growing.