Susana Querejazu never set out to become a pastry chef. The Austin native knew she liked cooking — she attended culinary school after all — but she didn't have a set path until she started working at Italian restaurant Vespaio in 2006. That's where she was thrown into the pastry deep end, and where she discovered her magic power: baking and sweets.
Fast-forward 10 years later. Querejazu is now the executive pastry chef of two of the city's most acclaimed and beloved restaurants, Odd Duck and Barley Swine (run by head chef/owner Bryce Gilmore), where she has come into her own. She's all about the fundamentals of what makes for great dishes. She geeks over pastry laminations and extremely seasonal produce. Her style focuses on taking the classics and freshening them up with new twists. "I like to be able to show things very originally, in a new life," she explains.
Before that, though, the Italian restaurant served as her training grounds, followed by a stint with the now-closed Amity Bakery. Afterward, she was restless — "I just wanted more" — so she started staging at Uchi. There, she discovered entirely new pastry possibilities, like the wonderful world of ice cream and sorbets and stabilizers. With all of her knowledge grown over the years, she landed at Odd Duck almost two years ago, and then extended her reign over to the relocated and revamped Barley Swine.
"She will also behead anyone that stands in her way. Maybe even light them on fire."
Within her new court, Querejazu gets to learn and incorporate her colleagues' different styles, which means even more opportunities to push, educate, and open herself up. There's the scientific approach of Eater Young Guns semifinalist and executive sous chef Charles Zhuo (who says her "dedication to quality and excellence" is "second to none"), and both fellow chef (and her fiancé) Bradley Nicholson's and Gilmore's practice of utilizing familiar methods in an unfamiliar setting.
Querejazu's nickname is Queen for a reason. Gilmore explains: "She has earned respect from all her fellow employees because of her unwavering commitment to the craft." He goes on: "She will also behead anyone that stands in her way. Maybe even light them on fire."
Querejazu obsesses over the details, making sure everything is just right. "You know when you take on a project that it's going to be a challenge," she explain. "You just have to start at one point." She worked through numerous iterations of the parsley croissant right up to the point where it appeared on diners' plates. "It's just trial and error until it's nauseating," she says.
All members of the Barley Swine staff collaborate to create unique dishes, like the "magical" koji rice pudding with "flavors that I've never had," she says. She throws in some Uchi knowledge with the ever-so-creamy mango sorbet, which she credits to the "perfectly ripe and bright" fruit from the Texas Valley itself.
Then there's the changing tasting menu, where she learns and practices how to balance tastes, flavors, and techniques. "It's another level of complication that you have to master," she says. Think of a menu like a puzzle, and Querejazu is figuring out how her sweets can fit in just right with everything else. "It keeps your wheels turning."
Right now, she's obsessed with blueberries, because of their "amazing texture." At Barley Swine, the fruit is transformed into caviar, layered over a base of sweet corn-stabilized whipped cream. Don't worry: whole fresh berries are there, too, and at Gilmore's suggestion, Jello-like rosé cubes. Remember, it's a collaborative effort. Over at Odd Duck, those blueberries top a simple yet complex rosette cookie with large dollops of Greek yogurt. Both are refreshing, both are delicious, and both are the picture perfect definition of Texas early summer in dessert form.
While essentially the same beliefs and approaches ground both restaurants, Odd Duck's desserts are more "ooey gooey" with an emphasis on "hot/cold contrast," she previously described, with a focus on more comforting fare. Barley Swine, considered one of Austin's few finer dining establishments left, has a more precise approach. Odd's chocolate zucchini cake, while "ultimately satisfying," wouldn't work for Barley Swine, Querejazu knows. Then, Barley's koji rice pudding doesn't fit in with Odd's menu.
It's all about finding balance and perfection, and Querejazu deeply understands that. Never the one to sit still, her current projects include sopapillas, but don't expect to find that on the menu until she's happy with the dough.
Nadia Chaudhury is Eater's Austin editor.
Susana Querejazu is the executive pastry chef of Austin's Odd Duck and Barley Swine. Images by Robert J. Lerma.
Editors: Dana Hatic and Sonia Chopra
Copy editor: Dawn Mobley
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