“You can taste passion.”
With those words, Chef Scott Green establishes the rules by which he lives. He is passionate about his work as a pastry chef and instructor at the French Pastry School of Kennedy-King College in Chicago. He is passionate about food and flavor. And, he is passionate about pastry.
So much so that he is part of a team which won the National Team Pastry championship, and is now preparing to compete in the 2012 World Pastry Team championship. The big event will be held July 8 and 9 in Las Vegas at the Red Rock Casino. Green is one of three Chicago pastry chefs who make up the first all-American born team ever to represent the United States at the illustrious worldwide competition. He is working with Joshua Johnson, also an instructor at the French Pastry School, and Donald Wressell, corporate Chef for Guittard Chocolate Company, plus alternate Della Gossett, another instructor at the school.
"We aren't doing that for any reason other than enjoying what we do," he says. In fact, the ability to compete is part of what brought Green back to the school where he originally trained as a chef. But it was a circuitous road getting there.
“I started as an art major—the Art Institute is what brought me to Chicago," he says. "I didn’t have any background in baking. I was literally watching the Food Network, where they were making sculptures out of chocolate.” As it turns out, two of the competitors were Chefs Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sébastien Canonne, M.O.F., who were also the co-founders of the French Pastry School.
“The next day,” continues Green, “I dropped out of art school and enrolled in the French Pastry School...to my family’s horror.”
From there, however, Green discovered his passion. “I found I loved pastry. I loved cooking, and I was OK at it. When I began doing sculpture work in Chicago I discovered my future.”
Green graduated and began working in pastry shops around Chicago, until he went to work for the Four Seasons Resort in Southern California, working his way up to Executive Pastry Chef where he managed a staff of 12 in a 400-room resort that featured six food venues and a banquet room equipped to serve more than 2,000 guests. He also earned a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design from the Art Institute of California in San Francisco, and, in that same year, competed in the Food Network Challenge series, Pastry Daredevils.
“Eventually," he says, "the French Pastry School called me and I came back.”
Green now teaches basic skills as well as showpieces—the artistic sugar work that is so admired. He is also involved in the cake program, teaching parts of the wedding cake program, including basic cake skills, sculpted cakes, sponge and buttercream, air brushing, and mold making—for which he says his art background is a big benefit.
He also keeps up on food trends, knowing that at some point pastry will be involved. “Food trends are all interconnected,” says Green. “You are not going to see something in pastry without other food categories showing it as well.”
Case in point: Cocktails. “When classic cocktails transition into pastry, you know it’s a full blown trend,” says the chef. “So much of it is based on consumer demand.”
He adds, “I see that especially true of cupcakes and petit fours. They are the perfect vehicle for all flavor combinations. And they are a response to consumer demand to pull back from haute cuisine to more casual desserts. The cupcake is just a perfect example of nostalgia, even kitsch.”
He says he enjoys making things that “speak to the mission of the school,” adding, “The very best things to eat are often the simple things. And the simple things can be hard to make.” He cites macarons (pictured), saying they are “simple almond flour and meringue, and a wildly popular classic.”
Green is, in fact, an advocate for the classics. “You can go too far out of the lines and forget what got you started,” he cautions. “You can impress people easily enough. The challenge is to stand out. And to stand out,” he says, “you have to do what you do well, do what makes you happy.”
So, have cupcakes ready to end their turn at the top of the dessert trends chart?
Green says no. “In this country there is too much of a cultural connection for the cupcake to go away just yet. People are always going to love what they grew up with; in the States that means cupcakes.”
That doesn’t, however, mean that innovation has gone away. “I’m always trying to do something new and exciting to keep me sharp as a chef,” he says. "My emphasis is in having pride in what you do and passion in what you do. You have got to love it."
He adds, “It’s not just about being better. I think it’s being better than people’s expectations. Their expectations keep rising and rising. Thanks to TV and social media, they know more.
“But people can taste passion. It doesn’t matter what your profession is. Focus on what you do best. Otherwise, you’ll just be a clock puncher, making so-so product.
"It's not an easy career, but it's so rewarding if you really love it. If you pursue success in this career, it will go beyond just loving every day of work. You will have a mission. You won't wake up one day and wonder what you are doing."