Peter Scarola didn’t waste any time answering his professional calling. In high school he worked part time as a baker’s assistant at The Hearth Baker in suburban Lansdale, Pennsylvania. After graduation, he attended Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. He stuck around the city for a few jobs before landing at Keswick Hall in Charlottesville, Virginia. A launching pad for fine-dining chefs, Scarola left Keswick to work pastry posts for Rosewood Hotels in Puerto Rico and the Grenadines.
Scarola then hit the big leagues of modern American pastry, crafting sweets in Chicago under Thierry Tristch for four years at Everest and staging at Charlie Trotter’s. Eventually, Scarola decided to move back home but to push himself no less as pastry chef at Lacroix at The Rittenhouse Hotel. In 2006, he transitioned into a job at The Inn at St. Peter’s Village before teaming up with Chef Daniel Stern at now-shuttered Rae.
In 2010, when Stern opened opulent R2L
on the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place, he again chose Scarola to lead his pastry department. At R2L
, Scarola’s French training and bold American approach to flavor are the foundations of the most exciting and robust pastry program in the city. He and his team of pastry cooks make everything from mignardises and elegant pre-desserts to chocolate chip cookies and scones—even the house-made breads that first inspired his career in the kitchen.
Interview with 2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Pastry Chef Peter Scarola
Caroline Hatchett: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Peter Scarola: In high school, I worked at bakery part-time, a bread bakery. It was what I wanted to do, and I thought I could make a career out of it. I went to Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island. I worked in Providence at a few restaurants, then in Charlottesville, Virginia, at Keswick Hall. I left to work with Rosewood Hotel, then went to open a hotel in Puerto Rico, then in the Grenadines. I moved to Chicago and worked at Everest for four years.
CH: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
PS: There are a lot of benefits. It’s not mandatory or necessary for everyone. For me, it helped me to understand the different possibilities in the industry and all the routes you can take in pastry. It’s not for everyone. It doesn’t matter where you go, as long as you pay attention and you take it seriously. It’s part of the maturing process.
CH: Tell me about the Philly pastry community and how it evolved.
PS: Robert Bennet was the pastry chef at Le Bec-Fin. He’s one of the leaders in Philly pastry, at least when I was starting out. He’s very talented. He left and opened Miel Patisserie. It was a pastry chef’s dream—the best equipment, ingredients, and space. Many chefs worked for Robert.
CH: What’s your philosophy on food and dining?
PS: I like to respect the tradition of pastry, the traditional techniques and methods. Also, I explore the more modern methods that seem to be popping up every day. The interesting part of that, with new techniques, is that not everything works in every restaurant. I like flavor. That's something [Daniel] Stern has taught me. I’m constantly tasting things. There’s no settling, just making things better and developing layers of flavor.
CH: What’s the toughest challenge you have had to overcome?
PS: My balance of life and work. I have a family, two daughters and a wife. My boss is flexible. I don’t have to miss every ballet recital.
CH: Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself working with this company. Hopefully we'll be growing and opening new restaurants in the near future. It’s more challenging to have your business and balance. Until the girls get older, this is where I'll be.