Running one pastry kitchen would overwhelm most of us. Running three must take grit, savvy and creativity, and that about sums up Beverly Bates, baker par excellence and pastry mastermind for chef Jeffrey Buben's Bistro Bis, Vidalia and -- the newest -- Woodward Table. And now recognized for her professional talents, Bates was recently nominated by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington as the city's best pastry chef.
A native of New York and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Bates started cooking at the age of 13, learning to cook on a wood-burning stove. Back then, she says, she would not have dreamed of making a living as a chef, much less as a baker. But the art of pastry appealed to her, and she knew she had a knack for it. "Baking gives me instant gratification," she says. "It gives me a sense of self-esteem, like discovery of a gift. Baking is the greatest reward."
Faced suddenly with being a single mom, Bates decided to make a profession out of baking, enrolling in a community college for its culinary courses and working in a local pastry shop. There she worked for chef Floyd Misek, who became her first culinary mentor. After graduating from the CIA and working for famed chef Gordon Ramsay in London and for chef Joseph Poupon at his Patisserie Poupon in Baltimore, Bates moved to Washington. "When I first started here," she says, "women were not really working in the kitchen yet," adding that today, most of the local pastry chefs are women.
Although she has worked at several other D.C. restaurants, including Michel Richard Citronelle and Ici Urban Bistro, her main employer has been chef Buben. Starting out (how many years ago?) at his Bistro Bis, Bates was eventually retained to oversee the pastry kitchen of the revamped Vidalia.
|If you go|
|» Where: 1426 H St. NW|
|» Info: 202-347-5353; woodwardtable.com|
|» Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. nightly; brunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday|
That was two and a half years ago, and now chef Buben has recently launched the immense Woodward Table restaurant, located where Potenza once operated. That means Bates' days usually start early and end hours later, because she plans pastry menus for three restaurants, and, of course, does a fair amount of baking herself.
"I plan the week for the new restaurant," she says, "so that I know a week ahead what I will be baking." Besides that, she arranges the other two menus, changing desserts according to the seasons. But she also keeps customers' favorites available: At Bistro Bis, look for her apple tart or creme brulee; at Vidalia, the pecan pie; and at the new restaurant, the banana cream pie.
And what sweet dreams does Bates imagine for her future? Possibly, she muses, her own bakery in some distant city. But for the present, she is up to her elbows in restaurant flour and sugar.
What's your comfort food?
Soups. I make my own chicken-vegetable soup. Or in November, turkey-vegetable soup.
What's in your fridge?
Half-bottle white wine, grapefruit, oranges, salsa, corn tortillas, romaine lettuce and low-fat sour cream.
What is your luckiest moment?
Preparation meets opportunity. That is luck. And getting this job is lucky. You can make your own good luck be taking advantage of opportunities.
Corduroy, Table, Willow and Co Co. Sala.
What is your must-have ingredient?
Strawberry poppy seed breakfast scones
yields about 8 scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold butter, diced
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 cup cold buttermilk
1 cup diced strawberries
Preheat the oven to 350. Line a cookie tray or baking sheet with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingers, rub the diced butter into the dry mix until it is combined and crumbly with butter pieces no larger than peas. Mix in the poppy seeds and buttermilk until loosely combined. Fold in the strawberries.
Drop or scoop about 1/4-cup dough at a time on the prepared sheet. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.