In a culinary-minded city as innovative as Austin, it’s no surprise that pastries, desserts, and sweets are treated just as seriously as barbecue and queso. Some might even argue that we house some of the most talented pastry chefs in the country. Take five of the mad geniuses behind Austin’s most delectable dessert programs: Tavel Bristol-Joseph (Emmer & Rye), Laura Sawicki (Launderette/Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon/Mr. Mc’s), Thomas Calhoun (Lenoir), Callie Speer (Bombshell), and Jodi Elliott (Bribery Bakery. It’s easy to sing their sugary praises when they create such stunning work from Sawicki’s ice cream treats to Speer’s evocative edible dessert lands to Elliott’s mind-blowing baked goods.
In honor of Sweets Week, Eater dove into the minds of these prodigious sweets dealers, each who espouse an unwavering commitment to provocative and innovative pastry, to learn about their inspirations, favorite treats, and what’s coming next.
Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Emmer & Rye
The Background: Bristol-Joseph’s passion for passionfruit and all things pastry stems directly from his childhood spent baking in Guyana. He moved to New York at the age of 17 and made his way to Austin, where the Emmer & Rye partner celebrates ingredients from his South American childhood within his contemporary creations.
Signature Dish: The creamy and dreamy tres leches cheesecake was a crowd favorite until Bristol-Joseph took it off the menu, adhering to the adage that you should always leave them wanting more. Quickly becoming a new front-runner on the menu is his take on bread pudding, crafted from a custard made with brioche-infused milk for deep bread-like flavor and dreamy, creamy consistency.
On Inspiration: Motivated by a strong sense of emotion, his sole goal is “to have someone taste something, and for it to pull out a memory,” he explains. That means that the spark can come from an outfit, a guest’s story, or just friendly conversations.
Favorite Sweet Treats: A self-proclaimed “sucker for ice cream,” this brilliant pastry mind confesses to stashing a pint of Haagen-Dazs in his fridge at all times. His sweet tooth spans high- and low-brow items: Twix candy bars, Moscato wine, to a simple roti with a drizzle of honey.
What’s to Come: Don’t be surprised to find another cheesecake on Emmer & Rye’s menu. Joseph is tinkering with a new version of an old cheesecake classic, remixed and reimagined.
Laura Sawicki, Launderette, Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon, and Mr. Mc’s
The Background: With plenty of accolades (including a James Beard finalist nod earlier this year), Sawicki is perhaps Austin’s most nationally known dessert darling. Currently partner and executive pastry chef at Launderette, Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon and Mr. Mc’s, there is no stopping this powerhouse from her knack for all things delicious.
Signature Dish: With the varying types of menus in play right now for Sawicki, from fast casual, neighborhood dining, and marketplace, one thing remains constant: her devotion to making really good ice cream, which she says is “the heart of her desserts.” From the much beloved birthday cake sandwich at Launderette to Fresa’s creative pints to a choose-your-own-adventure soft serve program at Mr. Mc’s, there’s always a chance to scream for ice cream with her work.
On Inspiration: With menus inspired by both the seasons and childhood memories, Sawicki says that inspiration spawns from everything, from dining out, traveling, to reading everything. She seeks to create balance in sweet and savory, enabling these flavors to co-exist “in a playful, nostalgic, and sophisticated way,” she explains.
Favorite Sweet Treats: Sawicki’s love of ice cream is no secret, and she also admits to a deep love for “all things Haribo,” reserving her sweet tooth for candy, above all things.
What’s to Come: It may not feel like fall in Austin, but Sawicki’s Northeast upbringing means that her heart has already made emotional transition to pumpkins, fall foliage, and flannel. That means that guests can expect seasonally-appropriate desserts, like pecan pie and pumpkin spice latte at Fresa’s.
Thomas Calhoun, Lenoir
The Background: Calhoun boasts deep experience in serious kitchens in Austin and beyond. Today, he dazzles at Lenoir, after spending time learning as much as he could at the best area restaurants he could get into, like La Condesa, Uchi, Uchiko, Sway, and LaV.
Signature Dish: There is a good reason desserts are listed as “dream” on Lenoir’s menu. Calhoun tends to play with savory spices in delightful ways. This time of year, his butternut chocolate tart, with squash and cardamom, turning what looks like a simple dessert into a wonder of wild complexity with an earthy herbaceousness and mix of temperatures, textures, and flavors.
On Inspiration: Calhoun thanks Instagram for his ability to observe global pastry innovation and finds inspiration by “eating out and traveling as frequently as my bank account allows me to,” as he explains. Some of his favorite Texas accounts include Houston restaurant Oxheart in Houston and Odd Duck pastry chef Susana Querejazu.Outside of the Lone Star State, Calhoun geeks out over Elisabeth Prueitt at San Francisco’s Tartine and Melbourne Food and Wine Festival's account.
Favorite Sweet Treats: It’s always “cheese please” for Calhoun, when it comes to desserts. He also admits to having a huge sweet tooth. Doughnuts, gelato from Lenoir neighbor Dolce Neve, pies, and milk chocolate are just a few of his favorite things.
What’s Next: The combination of sweet and savory is a notion Calhoun will continue to explore. Likely, he’ll dabble with fermented and preserved ingredients. In his heart of hearts, this talented chef would like to see “desserts a last course for every meal, utilizing the freshness of whatever produce we have along with things we have preserved,” he contemplates.
Callie Speer, Bombshell
The Background: An Austin native with national recognition, Speer exudes a sense of whimsy in her persona and her pastry. Speer’s dessert past includes Parkside and helming pastry programs for the Chameleon Group, which includes Swift’s Attic, Delish Bakery, and Wu Chow. Most recently, Speer spent time creating the pastry and bread program for Hotel Van Zandt and has moved on to pursue a new independent project.
Signature Dish: Nostalgic is the name of the game for Speer, like the doughnut holes at Parkside, which were served in a bag with various dipping sauces, and the Popcorn and a Movie at Swift's Attic – a sweet and salty combination complete with root beer gel and cracker jacks.
On Inspiration: Speer likes to keep things weird. “Inspiration mostly comes from everyday, typical things, like a bowl of cereal or a movie,” she explains.
Favorite Sweet Treats: Sweet and salty through and through, popcorn with a bag of Reese’s Pieces is the dream for this Texas woman.
What’s Next: Speer is working on opening a punk rock diner, where she can stretch her pastry and culinary wings. She promises to get a little bit weird and a lot fanciful. Construction will commence in November.
Jodi Elliott, Bribery Bakery
The Background: Elliott is a baker extraordinaire. The Mueller location of the insanely popular Bribery Bakery moonlights as an evening destination where the bakery case stays open with the addition of plated desserts and a full bar.
Signature Dish: The pineapple brown butter blondie is a thing of magic: perfectly sweet and rich and tasty enough to convince anybody that it’s better than chocolate. Elliott touts salt as a favorite ingredient – you’ll find a subtle salty glow in her desserts, from peanut butter chocolate ganache cookies to carrot cake.
On Inspiration: When not channeling her own personal cravings, Elliott draws from those around her at Bribery, her staff. “Creating an open creative environment is extremely inspirational, and we feed off of each other,” Elliott says.
Favorite Sweet Treats: An avid fan of mixed textures, temperatures, and flavors, Elliott is quick to name the brownie sundae as her all-time favorite dessert.
What’s Next: Christmas has come early at Bribery Bakery, already tinkering with holiday creations while Thanksgiving pies will soon hit the ovens. Beyond that, Elliott and her team are starting to dabble in the world of vegan ingredients like tofu cream cheese – an entirely new challenge and one that we’re excited to see her bring to fruition.