Welcome back to another installment of Chicago Sweet Treats’ “Sweetheart of the Week!”
This week’s Sweetheart is the one-of-a-kind Corporate Pastry Chef, Amy Arnold.
Arnold is currently the Corporate Pastry Chef for Four Corners Tavern Group for restaurants like Schoolyard, Benchmark, Westend, Kirkwood, Gaslight, Ranalli’s, Highline, Sidebar, Fremont, Steakbar, Federales, and Smack Shack.
She was previously the Corporate Pastry Chef for DineAmic Group for three years, overseeing the dessert programs at restaurants like Siena Tavern, Public House, Bull & Bear, Prime & Provisions, Bar Siena and Bombo Bar.
Arnold has also served as Executive Pastry Chef at The Herrington Inn and Spa, pastry chef at Niche in Geneva, Illinois, and pastry sous chef at Prasino.
She sat down with Chicago Sweet Treats to talk about how she fell into the dessert industry, her favorite sweet treats, and her unique cooking style.
When did you realize your love for food?
Oddly I’ve never been a really big food person. I’ve always had a very sensitive stomach that most food doesn’t agree with.
I’ve always been very artistic and when my kids were small I didn’t work and found by accident that I could use baking and cake creations as an artistic outlet. So I made a lot of custom cake sculptures for friends and family back then.
What inspired you to become a pastry chef?
I have no formal pastry training. I went to school at the Illinois Institute of Art to become a savory chef, and just kind of fell into pastries because of my artistic talents.
I was a cartographer for 8+ years before I decided to go to school to become a chef.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
The first pastry chef I ever worked for was Todd Feitl at Prasino. He was brilliant and didn’t even have to work at it!
I’ve grown to love Johnny Iuzzini’s work for its eclectic nature.
I believe the most talented pastry chef across all mediums that I follow today is Jimmy MacMillan who’s here in Chicago. That guy could outdo Dominique Ansel with his eyes closed!
How has your experience as an artist contributed to your artistry as a chef?
I believe my work is all about the artistic gift. I use it to create visual appeal and flavor profiles to surprise and inspire people’s palettes.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Last year was quite the year. I won People’s Choice in the World Tour Gelato competition and 1st place in the Rumchata Contest at Chicago Gourmet 2016. But I’m most proud of my Smoking S’mores at Prime and Provision that Phil Vettel put on his “10 Best Dishes of 2016,” it was the only dessert on the list.
What is the one kitchen tool you can’t live without?
I can’t live without a really good chef knife. Most of the equipment I use one can improvise with something but you can’t fake a good knife.
What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
I really loved my gelato days. I love experimenting with obscure flavors and different textures. I love anything that you can play with the flavors of. I spent one year making nothing but cheesecakes before I got into the restaurant business. Friends and family loved that Christmas.
What’s your process of choosing dessert menus and recipes for the different restaurants you work with?
I like to take traditional dessert flavor profiles and tweak them to make something extraordinary. People love a show on their plate, but still 98 times out of 100 will choose something they know flavor wise.
What is your favorite sweet treat?
I love a boozy Tiramisu!
Where do you like to frequently dine in Chicago?
I’ve honestly not tried very many places in Chicago. I’ve been here 5 years but spent most of that time working. In this industry by the time you get off work the last thing you want to do is go to another restaurant/bar….you just seek peace and quiet.
Can you describe your cooking style?
I don’t know that I have a concrete style. I’m definitely a fly by the seat of my pants kind of girl. A little traditional and a little edgy…..eclectic? I told someone recently “I wake up every day and pray no one discovers I have no idea what I’m doing, I just make it up as I go.”
What do you love most about your job?
I love the random variety of every day. I can have nothing planned one day and wake up to a dozen messages and be booked solid before I hit the shower. No two days are ever the same. I also love that I was blessed with an amazing gift and I get to use that gift every day to make others smile.
Have the sweetest day!