The Reluctant Pastry Chef

by Rebecca Cohen
Antoinette Bruno
November 2013

Restaurant

Just try and walk away from Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop in Durham, North Carolina, without trying every pastry and confection in the place—down to the scandalously sumptuous lard-based vanilla-fennel caramels nonchalantly set by the cash register. From the most satisfying impulse buy ever to the impossibly rich yet light-as-clouds-in-heaven chocolate rochers, meddis has a way of making the simplest of sweets revelatory.

Bitter-Sweet Chocolate Ganache Tartlet

Bitter-Sweet Chocolate Ganache Tartlet

Rochers

Rochers

Mochi Cake with Roasted Summer Berries and Candied Meyer Lemon

Mochi Cake with Roasted Summer Berries and Candied Meyer Lemon

Pastry Chef Katie Meddis and Chef and Charcutier Justin Meddis of Rose’s Meat Market & Sweet Shop—Durham, NC

Pastry Chef Katie Meddis and Chef and Charcutier Justin Meddis of Rose’s Meat Market & Sweet Shop—Durham, NC

Meddis’s road to Rose’s and the sweeter side of the kitchen was unexpected. She got her professional start at 16, washing lettuce and plating salads for an Italian restaurant in Chapel Hill. That was enough to hook her for life, and she attended the Culinary Institute of America straight out of high school. With savory ambitions and an appetite for hands-on experience, Meddis moved to one of the South’s best food cities, Charleston, South Carolina. She worked at Magnolias and Cypress in various savory capacities and as a butcher. But it was at Blossom that she reluctantly traded in her butcher’s cleaver for baker’s scales.

“I hated it,” says Meddis. “I didn’t understand pastry at first. Everybody always says it’s meticulous, and I just didn’t have that mentality at the time. I kind of just stuck with it.” Starting with a part-time bread baking position, Meddis climbed the ladder to pastry sous chef, and eventually pastry chef at both Blossom and Magnolias. But it wasn’t an easy transition. “I learned to slow down and appreciate [pastry]. It took me some time to come around to it, but now I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Along with now-husband Justin, Meddis left Charleston for Berkeley and a pastry cook position at Alice Water’s Chez Panisse. “I started to think a lot harder about what I was doing, and why I was doing it. It made pastry more special for me.” Eventually, she made her way back across the country with Justin (who’s the meat to Katie’s sweet) and opened Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop in the burgeoning farm and food community of Durham.

“The feeling here is that we’re part of something that’s getting bigger and bigger, and we’re helping to build it,” says Meddis. “In San Francisco, if we’d done the same thing, it would’ve been like ‘oh look, another locally sourced baker.’ But here it’s new and exciting. It’s a service that people really need.”

Truer words were never spoken. Once you’ve tasted her crème fraîche panna cotta with strawberry and candied kumquat jam (stashed in a lowboy under her counter in mason jars), you more than crave it, you need it; like pie needs ice cream (which she’s started churning, as well). Although she refers to her offerings as “nothing crazy,” Meddis has started a bit of a craze—for fruit galettes, ricciarelli, bitter-sweet chocolate ganache tartlets, and mochi cake with roasted summer berries and candied meyer lemon.

“A lot of my pastry philosophy now goes along the lines Chez Panisse, where everything was simple and used good ingredients. I think it’s the best way, so I try to do the same now. If you wouldn’t serve it to your mama, don’t serve it.” And the people of Carolina have responded with their resounding support.

We recently met up with Meddis when she was in town to run the New York City Marathon, which she completed in five hours. Rose’s had barely been open six months. It was the night before race day and Meddis sipped a Coors Light, and followed it up with a bowl of noodles with various sides at Ippudo. We asked Meddis what drives her. “I would like to do one thing and do it well. We’ve put everything we’ve got into [Rose’s]. I can’t imagine walking away and working on something else.” These are the revelations of a reluctant pastry chef.

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