Something fun is happening in Charlotte next week: the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association Chef Showdown! Check out my interview with pastry chef contestant Gerald Hawkins – and get a few baking tips along the way.
Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash
The NCRLA Chef Showdown is about to take place in Charlotte, which means 21 chefs and 6 mixologists from across North Carolina are getting ready to enter the ring and duke it out for top honors.
As you may know, I can put away my fair share of food and sip on a near infinite number of cocktails, but my one true love has always been and always will be desserts. Suffice it to say that I was pleased to have the opportunity to share a little about one of this year’s Chef Showdown contestants, Gerald Hawkins, pastry chef at Gaston Country Club.
Gerald describes his culinary style as “avant-garde with a focus on classic French techniques and unique flavor combinations”. He got his start as a busboy at Outback Steakhouse and worked his way up to lead line cook and pastry chef positions. With drive like that, it seems to me that Gerald is well on the way to realizing his goal of opening his own restaurant someday.
In the midst of all his baking and competition-prep duties, Gerald graciously took the time to answer a few questions. Read on to get a look inside the mind of a pastry chef.
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Photo courtesy of Gerald Hawkins
What’s your favorite pastry to make?
An apple, peach, or banana Tarte Tatin. It is a beautiful upside-down tart that marries perfectly with the caramel flavor. I find both the preparation and final presentation of the tart to be an all-around satisfying experience.
And what’s your favorite pastry to eat?
Lemon sorbet. The sour punch of fresh lemon juice with the correct balance of sugar is second to none.
Who inspires you?
Personally, I am inspired by my father, Gerald Sr., who has shown me that dedication and determination will lead to success and happiness. I am also professionally inspired by executive chef Paul Clark of Gaston Country Club. He has been the largest proponent to my growth as a pastry chef, giving me invaluable resources and opportunities along the way.
How often do you change up the dessert menu at the country club?
We keep our most popular desserts – flourless chocolate cake, key lime pie, and crème brûlèe – on the menu year-round with seasonal modifications and garnishes. We also offer two to four seasonal desserts, and during the spring and summer, we have a separate ice cream, sorbet, and sherbet menu with up to 15 unique flavors.
Photo courtesy of Gerald Hawkins
What is your favorite thing to cook in your home kitchen?
I enjoy cooking Latin American and French inspired dishes and experimenting with new cooking techniques.
Anything you wish that you got to make more of?
I wish that I could cook more dishes that focus on French principles and molecular gastronomy. Fusing these branches of culinary arts with southern cuisines is definitely something I’m looking towards.
Any recommendations for home bakers?
(Note my selfish attempt to score some free baking advice 😉 )
Don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t come out perfectly the first time. Trial and error are an important part of cooking and baking and contributes to future knowledge of what to do and what not to do in any given situation. Also, be as precise as possible; an oven thermometer, kitchen scale, flour sifter, and candy thermometer are must-haves!
I’m a huge fan of cookbooks. Any recommendations for a cookbook should every home baker own?
Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott is an amazing cookbook about the history of pie in our region (complete with recipes).
Deconstructed creme brulee. Photo courtesy of Gerald Hawkins.
If you could have any job other than a pastry chef, what would it be?
If I could have any other job, I would be an architect. Architecture is one of my favorite disciplines, and I think that in some ways it has shaped my approach to culinary arts.
What do you love about the Charlotte and North Carolina food scene?
I love the diversity of the Charlotte food scene. At any given time, there are so many great options and cuisines to choose from. As for as the rest of North Carolina, I enjoy the Asheville food scene because of their unique venues and dining experiences and the growing Wilmington/Wrightsville Beach market that features some of the best views and concepts in North Carolina.
Rhubarb upside down cake. Photo courtesy of Gerald Hawkins.
I’m looking forward to watching Gerald compete in the NCRLA Chef Showdown on Monday, August 27 at Founders Hall in uptown Charlotte. Won’t you join me?
The event runs from 5:30 p.m to 9 p.m. and includes food and drink tastings from North Carolina distilleries, wineries, and breweries. Get your ticket on Eventbrite, and then get ready to have a great time. Good luck, Gerald!