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Meet the Eater Young Guns Semi-Finalists: Alissa Rozos

Dina Avila

Eater Young Gun semi-finalist Alissa Rozos was the first Craigslist candidate famed pastry chef and cronut king Dominique Ansel ever hired at New York's Daniel. Though he had a stack of resumes sent directly to Daniel and her resume was green, he says he wanted "fresh spirit and new blood in the kitchen." And the risk paid off. He says, "Right away, she was so good. I had her at the window of the service station after three weeks (I usually don't promote them to this spot until months later). You teach her once, and she'd get it every time after." Now Rozos is in Portland, Oregon heading up the pastry program at St. Jack and running its daytime patisserie, giving her the opportunity to experiment with plated dishes while still producing canelés, fruit galettes, éclairs, and croissants for the bakery. Ahead, she talks about her path from Johnson & Wales to running the show.

How did you get interested in pastry?
I grew up with my family all about having food around; I always loved playing in the kitchen. From a very young age, I was taking classes, was baking constantly. And when I was in high school, seriously looking it as a career, I realized that was something I really had a passion for. I started doing some investigation on culinary schools, heard about Johnson & Wales University doing a baking and pastry program, and that was a perfect fit.

And post-graduation, you most famously worked at Daniel in New York before coming back to Portland.
I went to culinary school in Denver, Colorado, and worked for certified master chef Daniel Scannell at a country club there. And then he got me onto this path of working on culinary teams. So I moved to New York to work on a culinary team there, I dined at Daniel and was like, "Oh my gosh, I have to work here. This is amazing." That was really lucky; I actually went in just to stage, and they put me through an interview process instead, and offered me a job when I was just trying to stage there. It was amazing timing. I got to work with a very talented staff and pastry team. Dominique Ansel was the pastry chef there when I was there, and taught me so much. So that was one of the best experiences I could've had.

What were some of the lessons you learned there? Any Ansel advice or tricks you use daily?
Something that's different in New York versus Portland: It was such a large fine-dining, plated restaurant. We sent out over 300 desserts in an evening, so we actually had a line for the pastry team—our kitchen staff here [at St. Jack] would be the pastry staff there. It's very different. Most pastry chefs here in Portland, or in any smaller restaurant, don't get to have that team environment. So I got to work the service line in a team environment, in that way, instead of just the production side of it. That was a huge learning experience and opportunity. One of my culinary mentors from culinary school, he said to be in a place where I'm also learning. And that has always guided my career path?If you're learning, stay there. If you're not, move onto the next thing.

And how did this opportunity at St. Jack come about?
I knew chef Aaron [Barnett]? and when he was in the process of planning this, he said, I want to keep in touch with you. He was going to open up a small restaurant, and you don't need a full-time pastry chef; [it's] the bummer of most restaurants in this town. And so he came back with, "What if we do a patisserie during the day, you can do the desserts at night and this will fill the rest of your job." And I was like, "I'm in." That was an amazing opportunity I couldn't pass up.

Tell me about conceptualizing two different dessert programs, the daytime patisserie and the evening desserts.
I feel like I get the best of both worlds with it. I get a boutique patisserie where I get to have counter pastries, but then, I really like the plated dessert side. So it gives me a little bit of each, and I love the balance of it. We wanted to create a presence in the neighborhood during the day, so it worked out really well: Let's offer coffee and pastries, which is something I take care of, and then it started growing from there. During the day, we set up the desserts for the restaurant to plate at night? But with the plated desserts you have so many more components, so it is two different things completely. At the patisserie, we want to have some traditional French pastries, nothing too fancy, a little more casual — like an eclair, that wouldn't be a plated dessert. Sometimes the techniques will cross over. Maybe we'll have the Frengipane almond cake on there [during the day], but we can use that as one of the components for the plated dessert. So they can cross paths, but it'll look really different.

Is there one style you prefer over the other?
I do love plated desserts. To me, the plate is like a canvas, to create the different colors and textures is fun. Combining flavors, I love the creative side of it.

So how do you conceptualize a plated dessert?
I usually start with one ingredient, usually [inspired by] the season. Or maybe chocolate. Like right now, we're going to be getting strawberries in. So I literally just start scratching down flavors I like with strawberries. And then one will just hit me, and then I'll go from there — maybe I'll use goat cheese one time with strawberries and go, "Oh, I love this goat cheese mousse." That would go great with maybe Frangipane and almond cake — so we could do candied almonds for the garnish. Using those flavors and knowing what components they might be in, we build from there.

What are some of your favorite desserts you've served here?
I don't really repeat desserts — except for the flottante, the floating island. I have been getting so many requests to get that back on, so I think once berries come in season I'll put it on. But as far as favorite?the strawberry vacherin I did last year, or maybe it was two seasons ago, that was with a crisp lemon meringue, creme fraiche chantilly, and the strawberries were incredible, so I didn't really have to do too much to make those good. Just a really fun, light, spring, but full-flavored dessert.

You mentioned earlier that the idea is to always keep learning. What do you feel like you still have to learn?
Oh my gosh, so many things. I have a lot to learn. There's so many ingredients that I'm sure I could have a lot of fun working with. Doing my own research to find out what ingredients I need to maybe play around with, so I can learn new techniques. Less-familiar ingredients, I'd say.

So what's the long-term goal?
I have always dreamed of having an ice cream parlor. That might be a long-term thing. I love making ice cream, I love creating new flavors, I love eating ice cream. [Laughs] The real homemade, custardy, old-fashioned creams.

Some of Rozos' plated desserts:

[Photos by Dina Avila]

— Interview by Erin DeJesus

· All Young Guns Coverage [~E~]
· All Coverage of St. Jack [~EPDX~]