Just Desserts: Meet Five of the 2012 StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition Chefs

by Nicholas Rummell
July 2012

We've canvassed the nation, tasted as many pastries as we could without needing an insulin shot, and met some amazingly talented chefs, but we had to cut it off somewhere. The 3rd Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition, presented by PreGel America, features 20 of the best, young pastry chefs in the country. From Beverly Hills to Miami, here is a round-up of five of this year's competitors, all of whom plan to bring their A games to take home the ultimate prize at the 2012 International Chefs Congress. Get to know the competitors before you attend.


Pastry Kei Hasegawa

Kei Hasegawa of Matsuhisa – Beverly Hills, CA

Pastry Chef Kei Hasegawa spent eight years at a restaurant in his native Japan, creating macarons every single day, before coming to the United States in 2005. The dedication to his craft paid off—his macarons today are without equal. His pastries have helped pave the way for an umami trend in the world of sweets, breaking from the Japanese tradition of extremely sweet wa-gashi while still maintaining a Japanese sensibility in the ingredients in his desserts. Since his arrival in the United States in 2005, he spent time at Nobu where he met one of his most influential mentors, Gabriele Riva. He then joined the Sashi team in 2009 alongside 2006 New York Rising Star Chef Makoto Okuwa. There, he brought his signature light touch and stellar mastery of Japanese techniques to the dessert menu. Now at Nobu sister restaurant Matsuhisa, Hasegawa says he favors flavor over presentation, but his plates are surprisingly clean and elegant.

Recipe: Goma-Tofu with Sake-Lime Sorbet, Sesame Foam, and Sesame Crunch


Pastry Jim Hutchison

Jim Hutchison of Foxwoods Resort – North Stonington, CT

As a child Jim Hutchison loved math, but he was bored sitting at a desk in the classroom. However, he found a more interesting application for his numerical interest—in the kitchen, applying mathematic and scientific theories to develop recipes and techniques. Hutchison's vocational chef-instructor allowed the budding pastry chef to experiment and work on any technique he wanted. Hutchison's working career has included both classically driven kitchens, as well as menus with modern techniques. He combines both philosophies into his pastries, blurring the lines between the two. Hutchison is now pastry chef at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. A hardy competitor in the 1st Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition for his pistachio custard, Hutchison is gunning for top honors this year.

Recipe: Pistachio Custard, Wisconsin Les Frères Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Pineapple-Basil Compote, Cognac Shortbread, Pineapple Cotton Candy, and PreGel Fig Arabeschi Sauce


Pastry Christina Kaelberer

Christina Kaelberer of W Hotel – Boston, MA

Previously the executive pastry chef of Jean-George Vongerichten's Chambers Kitchen in Minneapolis, Christina Kaelberer translated eight years of international experience and expertise into a position as executive pastry chef of Jean Georges' Market at the W Boston. Before joining the Jean Georges family, Kaelberer received culinary training both in her native Minneapolis (at The Art Institutes International Minnesota) and abroad (at the prestigious Valrhona's École du Grand Chocolat in France). A testament to her skills, Kaelberer was awarded "Best Dessert" by Improper Bostonian in their 2011 Boston's Best issue, saying "Pastry chef Christina Kaelberer's exotic plays on familiar desserts have earned her a spot as one of the city's must-watch rising stars." Kaelberer, who was also a competitor in the 2nd Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition, has taken her brand of confectionery west as the new pastry chef at Bottega Ristorante in Yountville, California.

Recipe: Sangria: Jellied Spicy Red Fruits with Candied Citrus and Sparkling Rosé-Strawberry Sorbet


Pastry Luis Villavelazquez

Luis Villavelazquez of Les Elements Patisserie – San Francisco, CA

Pastry Chef Luis Villavelazquez was born and raised in San Francisco. He still recalls first being interested in pastry as a child, while spending time at Sally's in Potrero Hill, where his mother worked. After high school, he pursued his passion for all things pastry-related and enrolled in the San Francisco City College Culinary Program. While attending college, Villavelazquez gained experience as a pastry assistant at Chaya Brasserie. Upon graduating in 2004, Villavelazquez joined Citizen Cake, working under Pastry Chef Elizabeth Falkner (he would later join Falkner's Orson). But it was at Absinthe where he specialized in unusual flavor combinations like Italian digestif Fernet Branca, honey, and figs. While at Absinthe, Villavelazquez's farmers market bakery stand also began making its weekly appearance at the Ferry Building with more mainstream cupcakes and doughnuts, and in late 2010 he focused completely on his bakery, Les Elements Patisserie. At the local farmers market every week, Villavelazquez strives to keep his ingredients seasonal and organic when possible.

Recipe: Mincemeat with Cocoa Streusel, Bitter Chocolate Sauce, and Swirled Chocolate Fro-Yo


Pastry Jennifer Yee

Jennifer Yee of SHO Shaun Hergatt – New York, NY

2010 New York Rising Star Chef Jennifer Yee can see the forest for the trees. This pastry chef has managed large-scale production of all things pastry, but still pays microscopic attention to the details. No doubt her fine arts degree in interior architecture from San Jose State University allows Yee to appreciate the scale of any successful design. And the patisserie diploma from London's Le Cordon Bleu that Yee earned with honors allows her to apply that sensibility to dessert, a forum where the large and small scale flavors, textures, and portion sizes are counterpoised in a constant game of balance and boundary-pushing. Yee has worked at some of the best restaurants in the business, from Gilt to Aureole, where she juxtaposed opposites of texture, temperature, and flavor—as in her chilled melon soup with salty dehydrated black olives, a lesson in the fine architectural balance of a great dessert. In June 2011 she took a position at The Breslin, and later became pastry chef at SHO Shaun Hergatt.

Recipe: TriStar Strawberry Consommé with Red Bell Pepper Meringue, Cilantro Oil, and Ricotta Sorbet