A lot of people like to say they’ve been cooking since they were a wee one who could barely see over the countertops. But unlike Mallory Staley, few people can say they were promoted to executive pastry chef at a restaurant when they were just 15 years old.
Growing up, she worked at a bed and breakfast in Maryland where the pastry chef was also in charge of the cold plating station for salads. When that pastry chef left, Mallory found herself in charge of desserts after only working there for four months. “I always knew I wanted to cook and as soon as I knew I wanted to cook professionally, I never looked back,” she said.
Before returning to the DMV area and starting at 1789, Staley earned her certificate at The French Culinary Institute in New York and most recently worked as the pastry chef at the renowned Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel. She felt maxed out in New York, she said. That’s when she saw the job ad at 1789 for a new pastry chef, following the departure of the restaurant’s long-time pastry chef, Travis Olson.
During her time in Manhattan, Staley had the honor of cooking at the James Beard Foundation house three times. “It’s very old school and there is so much stuff in their kitchen. It was phenomenal. People [dinner guests] walk through the kitchen and chat it up with you. It was an honor to be part of that,” Staley says.
While Mallory always wanted to be a chef, she didn’t feel a calling for desserts at first. After sampling her key lime cheesecake with a pink peppercorn biscuit and her rhubarb shortcake trifle (which there will be a recipe for later this afternoon), I can safely say we should all be glad she decided to go the route of pastry chef. “I love the creativity of my job,” she says. “I love taking food and running with it. The possibilities are endless with desserts. There are the basic ingredients: flour, egg and sugar, but you can do so much with them.”
Working with desserts isn’t all sugar and lollipops, though. A lot of chefs I’ve talked to have pointed to the downturn in the economy for why many restaurants no longer have a pastry chef. True, it does save money, but in my opinion, you can always tell when a restaurant has a pastry chef and when it doesn’t. According to Staley, pastry chefs are slowly but surely making a comeback.
Additionally, Mallory says her biggest challenge is maintaining consistency and keeping her pastry team enthused. “I try to keep us all together and have an excited team,” she says. She points out that although she trains her team to make her desserts and breads like she would, she also thinks it’s important for her team to have the freedom to try making new dishes.
In terms of the DC dining scene, Mallory echoes other chefs who believe that it has come a long way and is still growing. “There are a lot of great chefs here and some awesome, kickass food,” she says. “As more chefs come to DC, it keeps us challenged. There are fresh, new faces getting attention and so everyone has to swing even harder to keep up.”
When I asked about any new changes she will be bringing to the Georgetown institution, Staley says she’ll be “staying classic but taking desserts outside the box.” To pay homage to DC’s history, she’s added a one-of-a-kind 1789 chocolate coin. She adds that she will be looking to incorporate more savory items, such as the aforementioned peppercorn biscuit with the key lime cheesecake.
Check back at 3 pm for Mallory’s recipe for rhubarb shortcake trifle. I suggest you make time to pick up the ingredients for it this weekend, since rhubarb’s in season and this is the perfect spring dessert.