Of all the types of eaters one encounters in the world of food, those who say they’re “not a dessert person” are the most baffling. Maybe they’re just eating the wrong desserts.
Certainly, none of the members of this mysterious group have ever sampled the treats created by the nine talented individuals nominated for Pastry Chef of the Year in the 2022 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. As selected by our panel of restaurant industry experts, this group understands that a meal isn’t complete without a perfectly balanced bite of a dish that’s sweet — but not too sweet — or tart or both with a compelling mix of textures that delight the senses. Beyond pastries, these chef also turn out some of Houston’s finest breads and other savory items.
Who will win? Find out May 25 at the Tastemaker Awards party. We’ll dine on bites from this year’s nominated restaurants before emcee Bun B reveals the winners. Buy tickets now.
Christina Au – Blacksmith
After building a following via a series of sold out pop-ups, Au found a permanent home as the pastry chef for one of Houston’s best coffee shops. Daily items like Blacksmith’s signature biscuits have received new attention, but Au shows the depth of her talent with weekend specials like strawberry passion sponge cake, Thai tea tart, and the utterly decadent millionaire tart. While she’s celebrated for her pop tarts, fans know the chef’s candy bars are her true gift to people with a sweet tooth.
Diego Chiarello – La Sicilia
This Italian immigrant blends his Sicilian roots with a diverse array of flavors to create the tempting creations that fill this Montrose bakery’s pastry case. Diners will find Italian classics like cookies and cannoli alongside cakes and other pastries that incorporate fusion flavors from Houston’s other immigrant communities. His recent strong showing on the Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship means the rest of America is learning how lucky Houston is to have someone of Chiarello’s talents.
Frédérick Fortin – Mademoiselle Louise
After a career in the telecommunications industry, this native Frenchman decided to follow a passion for pastry that he developed as a child and pursue pastry as a career. At his intimate downtown bakery, customer will find expertly crafted croissants, delicate eclairs, and other French classics. Seasonal specials, like his signature galette de rois, have won legions of fans.
Shawn Gawle – Goodnight Hospitality
Dining in Houston has been a little better since this talented chef brought his experiences from Michelin-starred restaurants to Montrose. Whether it’s canale and pasteis de nata at Montrose Cheese & Wine, seasonal sorbets and Basque cheesecake at Rosie Cannonball, or intricate pastries that end a meal at March, Gawle and his team turn out expertly crafted creations that always leave diners wanting one more bite. That chocolate chip cookies receive the same attention as March’s mignardises demonstrates Gawle’s commitment to providing all diners with a first-rate meal.
Vanarin Kuch – Koffeteria
Already known for treats like the baklava croissant and endless flavors of kouign amann, Kuch is taking Koffeteria to the next level by expanding into a commissary kitchen. The new facility will allow the chef to sell breads that range from classic baguettes to more inventive flavors inspired by his Cambodian heritage. An expanded selection of sandwiches and salads make Koffeteria a destination for sweet and savory food lovers alike.
Chris Leung – Cloud 10 Creamery
Even as more national ice cream brands make their way to Houston, Cloud 10 remains a staple. Its four scoop shops still serve Houston’s finest banana split, but a push into grocery stores and overnight shipping means its never been easier to satisfy a sudden craving for staple flavors like Cafe Sua Da and Toasted Rice. Credit Leung’s commitment to quality for his success; he still makes each flavor with its own base.
Rebecca Masson – Fluff Bake Bar
If all Masson did was introduce Houston to her Couch Potato cookie and Veruca Salt cake, she’d have cemented her status as a Houston pastry legend. Thankfully, this French-trained chef continues to roll out a steady stream of specials like barbecue kolaches and creative cinnamon roll iterations; she’s also expanded her ice cream production. As the bakery’s sold out pop ups with Top Chef star Gail Simmons, viral British baker Rich Myers, and local chef Aaron Bludorn demonstrate, Masson’s extensive network of relationship help make Fluff a must-visit destination.
Michal Michaeli – Badolina/Doris Metropolitan
Not to take away from the steaks, but anyone who’s dined at Doris Metropolitan knows that Michaeli’s breads are an equally essentially component of any meal there. The chef has been given a new stage at Badolina, the bakery that opened in Rice Village last summer. Patrons come for the seasonal quiches, creative pastries, and Israeli specialities like babka and bourekas. For a truly memorable, try one of Michaeli’s mousse cakes that are sold in six eye-catching shapes.
Otto Sanchez – Magnol French Baking
After working in Las Vegas for superstar chef Joël Robuchon, Sanchez made his mark at La Table and now at his own bakery. Fans of carefully made French pastries count on Magnol for everything from baguettes to opera cake. Weekend specials like almond croissants mean that those in the know go early to avoid the crowds (and finding something has sold out).