2015 Boston Rising Star Pasty Chef Renae Connolly of Café ArtScience

2015 Boston Rising Star Pasty Chef Renae Connolly of Café ArtScience
March 2015

Pastry Chef Renae Connolly lives the sweet life. At Café ArtScience, the culinary-art-science-design hybrid space, she and her sweet tooth have found their creative home. It’s not surprising Connolly would end up playing at the forefront of sophisticated, imaginative pastry. Her career has been an exercise in technical grounding and creative expansion. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Connolly did the requisite stints around her hometown of Fresno, California, before moving east to work at her first big name, big deal kitchen, Clio, under Rick Billings. She rose up the ranks, taking over as pastry chef, leaving to travel and continue to expand her technical and creative horizons.

Connolly spent two and a half years working and staging at different restaurants, ultimately finding a home at polished, progressive Marea in New York City. Connolly was advancing, but home beckoned, and she returned, rounding out her education behind the bar at Clio and later as bar manager at Commonwealth in Cambridge. Rooted in the sweet life, and stacked with skills and vision, Connolly was the superlative choice for pastry chef when Café ArtScience opened its doors. There, Connolly opens up her mind full of progressive, complex, and sweet possibilities to Boston.

Interview with Boston Rising Star Pastry Chef Renae Connolly of Café ArtScience

Caroline Hatchett: How did you first get into the industry?
Renae Connolly:
I started cooking when I was 17. My first job was in a bakery in Fresno, California, where I grew up. I always kind of knew I wanted to cook and thought it could be something of a career since I was 16. My aunt was a chef in Seattle, and when I visited her, I thought it’s a life you could make for yourself depending on how hard you work. I did a 10 month baking and pastry program, Got into bread baking first, then I did the overnight baking shift. I prefer to work in restaurants. There’s more plating, different textures, and you can only make so many different breads

CH: Would you say you’ve had a mentor in your career?
Rick Billings at Clio, I was his assistant for a year. He opened a lot of doors for me and was incredible to work with. He was very patient. We only spent a year working together but a lot of influence is still there, in things that I still do. He’s had a huge impact in my learning experience. You learn more when you have that mentor relationship with someone. I think about it a lot; the environment and the thought process really stuck with me from him. Why things make sense and why things don’t. How do you decide what you love about something. What you hold onto over time. You start to make them your rules about stuff.

CH: How would you describe your culinary style?
I have a playful style with desserts. People order desserts because they want to be happy; people eat dinner because they’re hungry, but dessert is for happiness. I like to keep it playful and fun for people to eat. 

CH: Any tips for pastry chefs just starting out?
Stand up for yourself. Savory can take over, but pastry is important too! Work hard and try different things. The more flavors you introduce to your palate, the more you have to work with. And when you get stuck with a plate, you can be resourceful. An ingredient shouldn’t be defined as sweet or just savory. Find the happy balance by tasting as many different things as you can. Travel. I went to Italy right after culinary school. New experiences are great! See what you like see; see what you don’t like.

CH: What’s your five-year plan?
I feel like there are a lot of paths I can follow. I’m kind of leaving it up in the air and seeing where the chips fall. Café ArtScience might expand, so I’d like to travel. I’d like to have a dessert shop with chocolate and coffee, very small and simple. I don’t think I’d like to open a restaurant. Sometimes you have to play things fast and loose.