They boil and bake and flour and fold. From custards to cakes, these sweet chefs keep the Vail Valley’s collective cravings satisfied. And when they’re not hard at work in the kitchen creating beautiful confections, they’re out and about feeding their souls. How sweet it is!
Did you always want to be a chef?
Since childhood, I baked cakes with my father, and my grandmother would keep the recipes. I don’t think I could have been anything else.
Did you begin as a pastry chef?
Well, I began working in the industry 25 years ago in Chile, where I’m from. Fifteen years ago, I became a pastry chef and developed my career in hotels. I perfected wedding cakes in Singapore, desserts in Brazil and dough and fondant in Argentina. I heard that you tool around town on your bike.
I like riding and enjoying the view. It is a street bike, so there is no specific place that I go. I like to ride my bike because it brings back the best memories I have as a child, riding with my group of friends.
You’ve been a pastry chef for over forty years. And folks seem to adore your French macarons since you introduced them four years ago. What are your favorites?
I would say, pistachio, lemon, carrot cake, goat cheese with honey, even Jägermeister are some of the best.
So, what do you think of some of the trendy dessert fads?
Well, I suppose you can call me ‘old school’. The traditional products that are offered, like an éclair or a pear tart with almond cream, will always be more important for sales than new trends, at least according to me. You cannot offer a doughnut that has not been fried.
What made you want to become a pastry chef?
In my family the artisan food business is a tradition: my grandfather was a baker, my oldest brother is a chef, and my other brother is a chocolate maker. So it is only normal that I followed that same tradition. As a chef, after having acquired the basics, you can work in the food industry around the whole world. And I always wanted to travel.
What do you do in your spare time?
I love the outdoors, the vibe and the people. My family and I enjoy Colorado because it’s so nice and there are so many beautiful days and we like to take advantage of that with the convertible, (a 2014 Mini-Cooper). We live in Leadville and the drive is so beautiful. That’s real Colorado – that’s what I like. I had a 1966 Mini in Belgium so, for me, it’s a lot of good memories. I really love this car. I also have a motorcycle. I love to fish and spend time with my family.
Name one foodie ingredient that you don’t like, and one ingredient that you really do.
I don’t like to work with fake ingredients: fake sugar, fake chocolate or fake egg whites. I like to work with old style ingredients, like puff pastry, almond cream and pastry cream.
Your path to becoming a pastry chef is quite unusual.
Yes, it is different, I suppose. I would never have foreseen myself here 20 years ago. I fell into this career after pursuing a few wildly different paths. I studied chemical engineering with hopes of working at Sara Lee or Pillsbury. I had a very misguided image of what the chemical engineers actually did for these companies, which wasn’t nearly as fun and satisfying as making cakes with real, fresh ingredients.
What Colorado product is your favorite to use in your pastries?
By far, the produce from the western slope! I drive to Palisade regularly to stock up on whatever is in season. I also hit the Vail farmers’ market every Sunday for the summer menu. Last year the white nectarines were amazing. And the blood plums last fall were gorgeous. I bought and processed 300 pounds!
I hear you have quite an unusual hobby.
Well, I love the outdoors and I really like to hike and camp. And, I like to arm wrestle. (Armstrong has won titles in Carbondale and Crested Butte, though she’s quick to clarify that the competitions are fun, charity events complete with costumes and fake names. Hers is “Armbreaker Armstrong”).
How did your career as a pastry chef come about?
When I was young, I loved to create art, whether it was a watercolor painting or a mixed-media piece. I worked as a landscaper for years before switching careers in my late 20s to attend culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu, where I studied baking and patisserie. (One glimpse at Anderson’s artfully composed desserts and it’s clear that her artistic hobby has influenced her work in the kitchen.) I enjoy taking traditional, familiar desserts and adding a twist, like my bread pudding that is filled with a liquid cheesecake center. (A totally decadent surprise!)
Is there a particular approach you like to take when creating a new dessert?
I enjoy incorporating things like corn or a savory flavor into a dessert that you might not think to pair with a plate. And I love to always have a salty component. Salty-sweet and hot-cold is the best combo in my mind, on a fancy dessert or even just a good old brownie sundae.
What favorite Colorado products go into your pastries?
I love all the local eggs and fruit! Peaches are probably my favorite, also the short but delicious rhubarb season as I have fond childhood memories from back home. I’d eat it straight out of the garden with a cup of sugar while running around barefoot in the backyard, hunting for pussy willow branches.
How often do you change the dessert menu at Grouse Mountain Grill?
I definitely like to keep things seasonal. I change things on the menu one plate at a time, so it’s always slowly morphing. As a chef, having things that stay on the menu is not ideal. You can get bored. One of the reasons I love working for Grouse Mountain Grill is the owners, Nancy Dowell and Chef David Gutowski, give me lots of creative freedom and a fabulous work space.
Have you always worked as a pastry chef?
My first kitchen experience was at 13 years old at the restaurant Aux Armes de France, which was awarded a Michelin Star. After I graduated culinary school, as a chef, I went on to specialize in pastry. Since then I have always worked in the pastry section, from the south of France to St. Barts, Australia and the USA.
Where did you get your love of sweets?
Actually, my grandma. She had a passion for pastry. I remember the traditional Alsacienne apple tart she’d make. My mom used to cook a lot too, and bake a lot of pastries, which is also probably where I found my passion for making desserts.
What influences the creation of your desserts?
I view my creations, as an opportunity to honor nature through sweet art. For instance, my “Moon” creation is comprised of coconut panna cotta with pineapple, covered in a white chocolate dome painted to resemble the moon. I top it with coconut cream foam and serve it on a black plate. Another dessert I make is “The Mountain,” which pairs two cones, one made of chocolate sorbet and one of hazelnut mousse on top of a brownie base. I put toasted marshmallow merengue on top so it looks like snow.
What is a dish that you’re most proud of or that has the most following?
I would say the lemon fennel dessert. It is a layered dessert made up of lemon custard, fennel crumble, olive oil gel, fennel granita and lemon sorbet.
Where will we find you when you’re out and about?
Usually, I’m either riding my motorbike or fly fishing the local rivers. However I would say that fishing is one of my favorite hobbies. I really find it very relaxing, especially after spending a lot of time in the kitchen.