Pastry savant and co-owner of five restaurants in Austin, Texas, including Emmer & Rye and Hestia.

By Khushbu Shah
May 12, 2020
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Cedric Angeles

Tavel Bristol-Joseph is a savant when it comes to sugar, flour, and yeast: His Parker House rolls, served with a glacier of cultured butter, are more pillowy than a cumulus cloud after a thunderstorm. His plated s’mores, a dark chocolate mousse with wobbly torched meringue surrounded by a moat of coconut ash and koji cream, is the most finessed version of any dessert inspired by a campfire. But the first time he ever learned to bake, it was as a punishment. “I was not a great student growing up, and I was a bad kid,” he explains with a laugh.

Bristol-Joseph, born and raised in Guyana, had a difficult childhood. His father, a drug dealer, died when he was 7, and his mother was stuck in the United States due to visa restrictions. Bristol-Joseph would spend evenings after school playing basketball late into the night—much to the chagrin of the auntie he was living with at the time. As payback for his mischief, she set him to work every Saturday baking pound cakes, trays of cookies, and loaves of bread for the kids attending Sunday school at her church. Turns out, he was a natural.

He moved to the United States shortly after graduating high school with dreams of playing professional basketball, but he quickly realized he had more game in the kitchen than on the court and enrolled in pastry school in New York City instead. And while his fantasy of being the next Michael Jordan may have been squashed, Bristol-Joseph has become an undeniable force in the kitchen. Today, he is a co-owner (alongside 2016 F&W Best New Chef Kevin Fink) and executive pastry chef at five different restaurants throughout Austin (Emmer & Rye, Hestia, Kalimotxo, Henbit, and TLV). At all of them, Bristol-Joseph’s globally inspired desserts make their menus among the most exciting in the country.

At Emmer & Rye, his plates lean intellectual: airy bread pudding arrives with a scoop of bread amino ice cream, made from a monthslong fermenting process involving lots of scrap bread and koji. Across town at Hestia, where an entirely frozen dessert menu stands in juxtaposition to the restaurant’s live-fire-cooked savory options, the star is the kakigori, a frigid mountain of pillowy shaved ice, dusted with an earthy orange-caramel matcha powder and roasted white chocolate that masks a generous orb of salted cream ice cream. (Bristol-Joseph became obsessed with the Japanese dessert during a trip to Tokyo and worked through 20 iterations before landing on this version). Next door at Kalimotxo, where he pulls influence from Spain, the showstopper is a thick slice of Basque cheesecake with a texture so creamy and a crust so beautifully darkened, it makes you gasp when it comes to the table.

Baking might once have been a punishment for Bristol-Joseph, but he now sees it as his calling and his platform. “I had every reason to not be successful,” he says. “I want people to see me and know they can succeed, too.”

Get the Recipe: Basque Cheesecake

Cedric Angeles