Rebecca Rather

F&W Star Chef

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Restaurant: The Pink Pig (Fredericksburg, TX)

What are you famous for?
Pastry. Even though I do everything in this restaurant, my high-hair lemon-lime meringues are a signature. Big, tall, the meringue is hand-pulled, which is like teasing hair. It’s a really, really stiff meringue.

What’s a dish that tells your story?
Pulled pork on fry bread (an American Indian fried flatbread). I’m part Choctaw Indian so I’ve been doing fry bread forever. I don’t know what the big craze is right now, but I decided to put the pulled pork on fry bread instead of a bun and it sells like crazy.

Favorite cookbook of all time.
Right now I’m using Donald Link’s Real Cajun a lot because I’m into real Cajun food and French pastries, which is all kind of intertwined in a weird way.

Who is your mentor?
When I was really starting out I worked with Marcel Desaulniers as his assistant at the Aspen Food & Wine festival. I really loved him. And Jacques Pépin. I danced with him a few times. I said to him, the last time I saw him, “You remember, I danced with you in Phoenix at IACP?” He said, in his French accent, “No, darling. I danced with you.”

Do you have any pre- or post-shift rituals?
I have three young pastry girls right now who are just out of culinary school and I have a meeting with them before service every day. It’s kind of cool because they moved here to work with me. I wish I’d had someone who would show me things when I was starting out. There was one person who I really respected in Houston and she wouldn’t share anything. She was mean and nasty and screamed at me! Her name was Marilyn Descours. She had a bakery and I would ask her questions. At one point she told me to figure it out for myself. I learned from working with other chefs and reading and studying and teaching myself. I’ve never stopped loving to bake and loving pastry and loving being a chef. That’s what I hope these girls get.

What advice would you give a young woman starting out in this business?
Know the business end of it. Get a business degree. People that come in here and want to have a little bakery like mine, well, if you don’t know the numbers, you will fail. It’s more than beautiful pastries and putting out great food.

It’s also hard physical work. All these women that I’m interviewing are going to culinary school in their 50s and 60s, and I’m thinking, “Are you kidding me?” It’s not glamorous. Production, and getting this stuff developed and made, it’s not easy. I usually start training for a half marathon or a marathon after I write a cookbook because I’ve gained so much weight testing recipes. I did San Francisco after the first one, Phoenix after the second and San Antonio after the third. I need to do one now for winter flab. My daughter made me run up all those subway stairs in New York when I was there. It was hard! It wasn’t funny. She was angry because I was slow. Don’t be mean to your mom!