Pastry Chef Katherine Clapner on
Patrick Langlinais

Katherine Clapner
Stephan Pyles
1807 Ross Ave, Suite 200
Dallas, TX 75201
(214) 580-7000

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Tejal Rao: When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Katherine Clapner I originally set out on a career in PR and advertising. My friend was a caterer and enjoyed it more, so I dropped out of college and enrolled in the CIA in Hyde Park for baking and pastry.

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Pastry Chef Katherine Clapner
Stephan Pyles | Dallas

Katherine Clapner is the fearless pastry chef at Stephan Pyles whose bold presentations and flavor combinations are unexpected but successful. Katherine draws from Pyles' savory pantry of Peruvian corn, saffron, fennel pollen, Mahleeb, coriander seeds, and white balsamic gel to create whimsical, almost Dr. Seuss-like plates that draw the eye to a tower of dusted doughnuts, spirals of crispy Peruvian Ponderaciones, and generous quenelles of ice cream that teeter between sweet and savory. Katherine replaces sugar with agave syrup for fruity, sugar-free desserts that are true to her well-defined culinary philosophy. Clapner wrote the dessert chapter of Southwestern Vegetarian with Stephan Pyles and developed the sugar-free desserts for Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Zero. Katherine credits Shayne Gorring for sharing his sense of fun and boundlessness with her.

Clapner first began her working relationship with Stephan Pyles at Star Canyon, AquaKnox, and Taqueria Canonita, but before she was developing the desserts to accompany his wide array of cuisines, the Dallas native attended the University of Texas at Arlington and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in New York, where she earned an Associates Degree in baking and pastry. Her first kitchen position was as Pantry Chef at Sam's Café in Dallas, which led to later stints under chefs Charlie Trotter and Kevin Graham.

Most recently serving as Pastry Chef at the new Hilton Hotel in Austin, Clapner was responsible for the pastry department's culinary direction, including oversight of the menu at the hotel's two restaurants, Liberty Tavern and Finn & Porter, and the coffee shop, Java Coast, as well as food service for the 800-room hotel and event catering for up to 3,000. Prior to serving in that position, she spent five years at Central Market working on the corporate side of culinary business development and store openings in Texas, as well as creating new dessert items for the Dallas area locations. Before that Clapner held pastry chef positions at The Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, Hotel Cipriani in Venice, The Savoy Hotel in London, and Mansion at Judges Hill, Ranch 616, and Liberty Tavern and Finn & Porter at the Hilton Hotel in Texas.

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Interview Cont'd
TR: How did you get started as a pastry chef?
KC: I sent out 20 letters to the top hotels in Europe offering to work for room and board. I got 10 responses and landed a job at the Savoy Hotel in London in 1989. The Savoy sent me to The Windsor and it's been a series of lucky events, just being at the right place at the right time since then. Later I worked under chef Kevin Graham and The Grill Room of Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans. Finding both of these jobs were great moments of luck. I’ve held Pastry Chef positions at Charlie Trotter's, Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Splendido in Portofino, and a lot of places around Dallas.

TR: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
KC: Shane Gorring of Covington has a world of pastry knowledge and shared it with me. Stephan (Pyles) has really broadened my horizons and refined my style.

TR: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
KC: Personality is my main concern. In a small kitchen, skills can be learned but personality can not.

TR: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
KC: Take any and every opportunity to get into restaurants. Try as many desserts and dishes as you possibly can. You have to dine at a place before you can really commit to working there. Make sure you really look at a place before you get too deeply involved in it.

TR: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
KC: I want to eat at Craft because its simple but on the money. I really like what the chef at La Duni is doing as well.

TR: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under appreciated or under utilized?
KC: I like to use Mahleeb seed which is like a cross between violets and marzipan. I like to use savory things like fennel pollen, white balsamic gel, and herbs that aren’t too sweet. You want the diner to leave the restaurant with a tiny sugar fix but there should be a good balance in a dessert.

TR: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
KC: White corn and chocolate, rose water and cocoa nibs, orange flower water with agave syrup, and chestnut honey with layered citrus notes.

TR: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
KC: My hands are really the best tool I have - that and Stephan's brain!

TR: What are your favorite cookbooks?
KC: The New International Confectioner Cookbook has every possible thing you could want or need. My mentor Shane introduced me to it. It really takes an old-school, gnarly approach to baking.

TR: Where would you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
KC: Spain or Peru to cook, eat, and learn.

TR: What languages do you speak?
KC: Spanish.

TR: What are your favorite restaurants-off the beaten path-in your city?
KC: York Street. Sharon is great and everything she puts out is absolutely fantastic. It could never be anything but perfect. Morgan at Bijoux is great, too.

TR: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
KC: Trends are a little contrived I think. Everyone sees the same Iron Chef and suddenly goes, “Oh Marshmallows! Must be the new hot thing!” I do see more crossing over and innovative cooking though, which is great.

TR: What is your pastry philosophy?
KC: Get the best ingredients. Don’t use a basic lemon when you can use something more interesting.

TR: Which person in history would you most like to have dinner with?
KC: I'd like to have family dinner with Edna Lewis!

TR: If you weren’t a pastry chef what do you think you’d be doing?
KC: I can’t even imagine. This is all I want to do.

TR: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
KC: I want to keep doing what I'm doing and hopefully do it well!

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   Published: April 2007