Pastry Chef Shannon Swindle  at
Patrick Langlinais

Shannon Swindle
W Hotel 2440 Victory Park Lane,
suite 100
Dallas, TX 75219
(214) 397-4111

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Antoinette Bruno: When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Shannon Swindle: I actually am a Type 1 diabetic, so I got interested in a career as a pastry chef out of necessity. I learned to focus on natural sweeteners and really high quality ingredients that speak for themselves rather than just loads of sugar.

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Pastry Chef Shannon Swindle
Craft | Dallas

Pastry Chef Shannon Swindle credits his family of adventurous foodies and Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters with inspiring his passion for the kitchen. His career as a pastry chef is a very unlikely one, given Swindle’s type 1 diabetes, but out of necessity he discovered a talent: creating desserts that are focused on the natural sweetness of high-quality seasonal ingredients.

Intrigued by the restaurant industry but with no formal training, Swindle began his career by volunteering in a professional kitchen. His love for pastry emerged at the first restaurant he worked in, under the guidance of Austin mentor chefs, Lisa and Emmett Fox.

After moving back to Dallas in 1995, he became the assistant pastry chef at Stephan Pyles’ Star Canyon, and then pastry chef at The Mansion at Turtle Creek with Dean Fearing. Surrounded by talented chefs, Swindle developed a deep appreciation for balanced desserts that weren’t overwhelmed with refined sugar, and became interested in refining his technique.

From there Swindle moved on to open Kent Rathbun’s Abacus, and after to Craft, where Swindle's incredible technical execution and precision shine through in his unpretentious creations - from the basic croissant baked a dark golden brown with a firm crust and tender, yeasted center to the almost savory composed plate of ricotta cheesecake seasoned with pieces of goat butter brittle and milky froth. His baked-to-order honey tuiles reveal Swindle's focus on perfecting classic pastry techniques and remind us how the underappreciated translucent crisps can be a serious experience in texture and flavor. Each of his desserts elevates the ordinary to bring our attention to an ingredient that can be, at least when Swindle is serving it, truly special and at the height of its possibility.

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Interview Cont'd
AB: Where have you worked professionally as a pastry chef?
SS: I started my career volunteering in Austin in 1994 with Lisa and Emmet Fox at a restaurant called 612 W. that's since closed. Lisa was the pastry chef there and I was completely blown away by her desserts. The next year I moved back to Dallas and worked at Star Canyon on both pastry and the hot line but really started to get into pastry full-time. From there I went to The Mansion on Turtle Creek for 2 years and Abacus for 2 years after that. I had great interactions with all of these chefs. We worked closely and they taught me a lot, which prepared me for my move to Craft.

AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
SS: James Wagner taught me a lot about the value of technique and seasoning, like how to use salt in pastry. I started on the line at Star Canyon with Stephan Pyles after one year of experience. One night I added blackberries to an apple spice cake. When Stephan asked why I did that I said that I thought the dish needed some color. He told me that blackberries had no place on the plate. He taught me a lot about control and deference.

AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
SS: I look for passion and excitement over experience. I ask interviewees technical questions; I actually have a written test with questions like “how do you make ice cream?” or “if you are baking a ten inch cake and there is no specified cooking time, when do you check the cake?” Another one is, “if a recipe calls for pecan pieces and we are out of them, what do you do?” That particular question tells me a lot about someone’s flexibility and ability to improvise.

AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
SS: Read a lot!

AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
SS: Rick Griggs, the pastry chef at Abacus. Katherine Clapner at Stephan Pyles, and Morgan Wilson at Bijoux.

AB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under appreciated or under utilized?
SS: Salt! We use it on so many different levels and at every cooking stage - from simple syrups to finishing a fleur de sel caramel or a plated dessert.

AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
SS: I like caramel and salt. Chocolate, bananas, and cinnamon also combine well.

AB: You said that a sharp knife was your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
SS: We are not a particularly gadgety kitchen so a sharp knife has to come in to play when other more high tech tools might have been utilized.

AB: Describe a culinary technique that you have either created of borrowed and used in an unusual way.
SS: The way we make our pate brisée is pretty creative. We freeze the flour, drizzle in fat, like bacon, duck or butter fat, that has been melted and cooled and put the combination in to a mixer with a paddle. We then cut in flattened, cold butter. We make the dough, chill it, put it through a sheeter, and let it rest for four hours.

AB: You said that the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook inspired you to become a chef. What do you appreciate most about it?
SS: I think that at the time it was written it really opened eyes to how to eat seasonally, organically, and locally. In 1975, not a lot of people were thinking about that - and it's still so relevant now. I appreciate her focus on the product over presentation - on substance over flash.

AB: Where would you like to go for culinary travel?
SS: Italy, because they produce such ingredient-focused dishes.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants-off the beaten path-in your city? What is your favorite dish there? What are your favorite after hour places and bars?
SS: Thai Noodles and Rice for it’s great larb (minced chicken with chilies and lime). Dodies has the best gumbo ever. Richardson is a great area to go looking for good, authentic Vietnamese food.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
SS: There is absolutely everything going on right now. The options for a chef are amaxing. Personally I’m into the minutiae of simplicity but I love that everything is going on at once.

AB: What is your pastry philosophy?
SS: It’s all about the product. If the only thing on your plate is cheesecake (and that happens at Craft!), it has nothing to fall back on so it had better be perfect.

AB: Which person in history would you most like to have dinner with?
SS: I would love to take Joni Mitchell out to dinner wherever she wanted to go.

AB: If you weren’t a pastry chef what do you think you’d be doing?
SS: Maybe an interior designer of some sort.

AB: What does ultimate success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
SS: I think success is just living in the present and being happy. And to be honest I feel successful right now because I love my job and Craft is such a great fit for me.

AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
SS: I am involved in charities I am passionate about Toast to Life. I have always been in involved in Taste of Nation as well.

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   Published: April 2007