Why I Skipped Cooking School, by Pastry Chef Lisa Donovan

Pastry chef Lisa Donovan tells why she decided to send herself to school in the kitchen.

A Nashville baker tells why she decided to send herself to school in the kitchen.

Culinary School is exactly what some people need to be a strong cook, but it wasn’t my path. Instead, I sent myself to school in my kitchen and at the Nashville Public Library. I pored over Pierre Hermé and Edna Lewis books, making notes about the differences between Southern pie dough and pâte brisée, and figuring out how to make the über-dough I needed for various ideas I had. I continued my education by loading bread into a wood oven with my first chef, Tandy Wilson, at Nashville’s City House; watching a hog get butchered; building my first wedding cake. I took good notes and was ready for anything.

When I was the pastry chef at Husk Nashville, one of my best hires came to me with zero pastry experience. He’d been frying chicken and making bucketfuls of collard greens at the legendary Arnold’s for the five years prior. “I want to learn, however hard that might be at this point in my life” and “I know nothing” were the interview comments that won me over. His urge to learn pastry, to get it right, was awe-inspiring. After working late into the night, he’d come back at 6 a.m. to practice his pie dough with me. He never felt like he had it, even when he did, and he persevered until he was convinced that I was happy. Read that again: until I was happy. He’s on the path I’m on still. He sent himself to school in the kitchen and he’ll never stop learning.

Related:
Pastry Chef Lisa Donovan Offers a Caramel Rich Homage to Edna Lewis
Breakfast Pastries
Breads and Biscuits

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