KC’s Emerging Pastry Chef Scene

Image via Facebook.com/StockHillKC

By Kathryn Greene

Kansas City’s dessert scene is undergoing a sweet (and savory) transformation. Restaurants across the metro—some for the first time in their history—are hiring pastry chefs, bringing a renewed dedication to dessert and the dining scene at large.

Here are some of the most notable pastry chefs in Kansas City:

Amy Shaw – The Rieger and Ça Va

In April 2017, Amy Shaw made history at the already-historic Rieger, becoming the restaurant’s first ever pastry chef. It marked her return to Kansas City after a stint in Boston, where she worked as Pastry Chef de Cuisine at Sofra Bakery & Cafe under James Beard nominee Maura Kilpatrick. It was at Sofra that she was introduced to the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors that are hallmarks of her desserts, including tahini and the Turkish dessert staple, halva.

Years in Boston allowed her to both hone her craft and to appreciate how special KC is. “People in Kansas City have so much pride. When someone comes out with a new restaurant, people are excited to try it and can’t wait to support you and make sure you succeed.”

Image via Facebook.com/CaVaKC

Shaw also creates dessert menus for Ça Va, which are decidedly more Parisian. “I understand not every restaurant can afford a pastry chef, but it rounds out the culinary team and really lends itself to the guest experience.”

Elizabeth Paradise – Story

Image via Facebook.com/storykc

Elizabeth Paradise initially pursued architecture in college—even working in the field after graduation—but changed direction and moved to Chicago to attend The French Pastry School. Post-Chicago she took her talents to New York City, working on the opening team at Jean-Georges’ ABC Kitchen, where she served high-profile guests including Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart. After four years in New York, her native Kansas City called her home.

“One of the reasons I love my job at Story so much is that we have a lot of really great relationships with farmers,” she said. “If I want rhubarb or peaches for a dessert, I know exactly who I can call.”

Image via Facebook.com/storykc

While Paradise chose pastry over plaster, her approach to dessert—much like architecture—is creative and relies on technical objectives. “You want to impress people and give them something familiar but different, like ice cream made with a sweet corn base or a blackberry compote with thyme. There’s always something a little unexpected.”

Jessica Armstrong – Novel

Jessica Armstrong first began her culinary career as a savory cook before completing the pastry program at Johnson County Community College. Her travels have taken her as close as Austin, Texas, where she worked for pastry shop Cake and Spoon, and as far as France, where she lived in Moulins in the French countryside and sold baked goods in a local open-air market.

Ater returning to Kansas City, Armstrong began with the opening team at Rye before moving on to become the pastry chef at Bluestem. Her latest chapter is her most exciting yet: working alongside her husband, Ryan Brazeal, chef/owner at Novel.

Image via Facebook.com/NovelKC

“Dessert at Novel is special, comforting and absolutely delicious. Dessert should make you ecstatic,” she said. Armstrong finds inspiration everywhere, from what Novel’s farmers are growing at any given time to her own dreams. “I’m obsessed with flavors, what tastes good together and the perfect balance of sweet, tart and rich. I despise overly sweet desserts. You should feel refreshed, but dessert can also be meant to cleanse your palate.” 

Kelly Conwell – Stock Hill

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Even though Kelly Conwell attended Johnson County Community College’s culinary program, she never set her sights on the world of pastries. It wasn’t until Megan Garrelts of Bluestem who convinced Conwell to give it a shot—and clearly it’s paid off.

Conwell draws inspiration from her travels, conversations with the culinary team at Stock Hill and her own childhood. Prior to Stock Hill, she worked at Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, where she developed one of the establishment’s most popular desserts, the s’mores tarte, which was inspired by making s’mores with her grandfather. In fact, the best compliment she can receive from both her colleagues and guests is the same—that one of her desserts brings them back to their own childhood.

Image via Facebook.com/StockHillKC

“Dessert is not an afterthought,” said Conwell. “For the first time in years, restaurants in Kansas City are hiring pastry chefs. The fact that I’m able to find jobs here doing what I love and people are acknowledging the dessert scene is fantastic.” 

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