You wouldn’t suspect that pastry chef Janina O’Leary grew up in the tiny, rural town of Del Rio, Texas. She’s worked at Del Posto, Per Se, Bouchon and now laV in Austin, and she’s been nominated for a James Beard Award, among other honors. So how did this tenacious, petite gal become such an enormous presence? With persistence. Here are five of the craziest experiences that helped make her who she is today.
1. Moving to New York City as a teenager—by herself. Unlike other kids, O’Leary didn’t have fame or fortune on the brain: She wanted to be a pastry chef. At 14, she decided it wasn’t quite enough to bake holiday cakes and pies with her aunts and mother. She researched culinary schools in NYC, and when the French Culinary Institute accepted her, she moved across the country by herself.
2. Working at Per Se and Bouchon at the same time. A job at one Michelin-rated restaurant wasn’t enough for this lady. After working at Per Se for about a year, she decided to take on the early-morning shift at Bouchon Bakery as well. She lived an hour and a half away in New Jersey and would ride the bus into the city. But when the bus was involved in an accident, O’Leary hurt her toe, which promptly got infected. Rather than tell anyone, she just limped around. Her foot swelled so much that she had to buy new kitchen shoes! Finally chef Richard Capizzi said, “Wait a minute, you didn’t have a limp when you started here.” He promptly made her go to the hospital, where the doctor told her she was three days away from losing her toe.