Walker, who recently moved to Columbus from New York, has joined the Ambrose and Eve culinary team led by chefs and co-owners Catie Randazzo and Matthew Heaggans.
Columbus is not known for having a plethora of pastry chef opportunities, so it’s unusual when a talented chef moves to town and snags a job in the niche. Eight-month-old Ambrose and Eve (716 S. High St.) just hired pastry chef Kathy Walker, who brings to town experience working at several notable Brooklyn restaurants. We asked her about her time in New York, her approach to desserts and what trends she hopes will (and won’t) find their way to Central Ohio.
You’ve worked in some noteworthy restaurants in New York, namely Pies 'n' Thighs, Lilia and Carbone. What were a few of the highlights from your time as a pastry chef in New York?
I've worked for and with some very talented and successful people, and I'm very grateful for the culinary path I've had. I was at Pies ’n’ Thighs when it was featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives; I think our waffle production increased 100 percent after that. As the opening pastry chef at Lilia, I got to develop the cafe and dessert menu for dinner, and the New York Times gave us a three star review. That was an amazing day; I still have a copy of that newspaper. And while I was at Carbone when it first received a Michelin Star, the biggest highlight would have to be the night Barack Obama came in. After dinner he came into the kitchen, shook everyone's hand and said thank you. I've never felt such intense energy in a room before. It was kinetic.
How did you first meet chef Randazzo? We met at some point a few years ago when Catie was living in New York. We had some mutual friends, but didn't really get to know each other very well at the time. Then when I was moving to Columbus, I reached out to Perrie Wilkof of Dough Mama because we actually had worked at Pies ’n’ Thighs together. She had mentioned to Catie that I was here, and that's how we ended up reconnecting. It's funny what a small world the restaurant industry can be.
What brings you to Columbus? Well, after 13 years in New York my husband and I were ready for a change. Moving here had been on the table for a few years, then I finally came to visit and had a great experience. There was good entrepreneurial and creative energy, like it was still a young city. The food scene is growing and coming into it's own, and there was a greater possibility of opening a business one day.
Ambrose and Eve’s menu certainly celebrates nostalgia and childhood memories. How have you kept those themes running through to the dessert menu? The chocolate mousse that's now [on the menu] is actually vegan, but I think it's nearly impossible to tell. That was one of my No. 1 childhood desserts. There was one restaurant that my family and I were regulars at and my dad knew the owner, and I would get it every single time we went. I can still taste it. It's funny because chocolate mousse is actually a strong childhood memory of chef Catie's, too. But I think [Ambrose and Eve’s] strawberry shortcake is a good example of taking something kitschy and making it restaurant worthy.
Right, your strawberry shortcake is a riff on Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake Bars, which many readers may remember from grade school. How did you take that old-school ice cream bar and give it an update?
Instead of an ice cream bar, I made a strawberry semifreddo and coated that in crumbs to resemble the classic Good Humor bar. Then it's served next to pieces of white cake, strawberries that have been macerated in sugar, prosecco and basil, a mascarpone cream, and olive oil. I like to combine classic American and Italian. It's what a grew up on and what I grew to love.
What’s another rather dated dessert that you’d like to conquer and give your own spin?
I feel like unless you're garnishing everything with a sprig of mint, there aren't a lot of dated things. Maybe ambrosia, but I don't think that's considered dessert. If you do it well, the dish becomes timeless. But I guess I would say a pineapple upside-down cake. I was working on a version once at Carbone that I would like to see come to life. I did a rice pudding special there that people really enjoyed. You don't see that a lot on menus right now.
What are some of the dessert trends that you’ve seen in other cities that you hope will make their way to Columbus? Are we going to start seeing dessert carts making a comeback?
I think a couple trends right now in New York are kakigori (Japanese shaved ice) and traditional English desserts. Those would be great to see. Dessert carts and tableside flambés are definitely having moments in certain restaurants. One thing I hope we don't see in Columbus is “sensationalist desserts.” Desserts that are generally created so one can take a picture of it. They are ornate, over-the-top creations that usually don't eat well or taste great; they're way out of balance. Even in desserts, form follows function.