(This interview appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
Growing up in the small town of Oak Harbor, Ohio, Cory Barrett got hooked on the idea of a culinary career while watching cooking programs on television and spending time in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother. Inspired by the creativity of cooking and the action of the kitchen, he enrolled in the culinary program at Baker College in Muskegon, Michigan, where he studied both pastry and savory cooking.
After culinary school, Barrett began working at the popular restaurant Pacific Rim in Ann Arbor as a line and pastry cook for a year. Next, he took the position of Pastry Chef at Tribute in Farmington Hills, Michigan. There he garnered attention for his passion and skill, which earned him the Pastry Chef position at the award-winning Japanese restaurant Okada at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort.
In 2006, Barrett became the Pastry Chef at Michael Symon’s restaurant Lola, in Cleveland. After a brief stint at The Herbfarm in Woodinville, Washington, Barrett returned to Lola as Executive Chef. Here, Barrett cooked dishes that reflected Symon’s exuberant, approachable culinary style and overall vision, while bringing his own distinctive influence to the plate. Now a Pastry and Baking Instructor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Cory looks to give back to students and the industry that has given so much to him.
You’re a culinary school graduate and you now teach culinary arts. How important do you think a formal culinary education is for success in the pastry field today?
I believe that education, on any level, is as important as we make it. Pastry, like any trade, benefits from introductory level education, and especially the repetition of skills. Many of the most relied upon techniques in the pastry kitchen are taught on a daily basis in a formal culinary education, and this gives a diligent student a platform to grow from. Certainly there is nothing more valuable than repetition and experience. Yet repetition and experience are even more valuable when compounded with an understanding of the ‘why’ and ‘how’. In short, a formal education has the ability to make a robust work ethic a smoother path to success.
What are some of the modern pastry trends that you see emerging?
‘Accuracy and the artisan’ – Precise silicone molds, straight lines, deep freezers, prefab cutters, and the list goes on and on. Our ingredients scaled to precision. Even our vendors are aware of our expectations for exactness. This rigor, combined with a manual need of the artisan to be hands-on (and a whole lot of social media), has developed a global pastry aesthetic. To some extent, this aesthetic has become an expectation. Silicone molds, and St. Honore tips are beautiful, but hands and minds make our approach to pastry unique.
Speaking of tips, what’s your favorite pastry tip or trick?
Generally, I like to find new and unusual ways to use tools and equipment that are already in the kitchen. A great example of this is what we came to call “plastic wrap sausage casing”— it’s a tube mold that we make from plastic wrap. Simply spool a yard of plastic wrap around your favorite French rolling pin. Slide the tube of plastic wrap off the end of the rolling pin, and tie off one end with butchers’ twine. Presto – you have what looks like a summer sausage casing. This can be filled with ice cream, mousse, sorbet, or other soft products. After filling tightly, tie off the other end, then freeze the product. You now have a product that is consistent in diameter, and can be sliced into a consistent thickness. The process also eliminates waste, as there is no ring mold for cutting involved.
What advice do you have for your recent pastry grads?
If you want to be rewarded in this career, always give yourself a chance. Say yes to work. Take yourself and your career seriously. Have fun in your hard work. Say yes to opportunities. You will find the harder you work, the more “lucky” you will become.
Jacqueline Marie Luttrell, Cory Barrett