Pastry Chefs Derek and Kayla May began their courtship in the kitchen at The Hermitage Hotel when their shifts overlapped by one hour.
Kayla arrived at 5 a.m. to make breads and banquet sweets, and Derek arrived later to make plated desserts. Everyone on the crew had individual plastic bins to keep their tools, but Derek noticed that Kayla’s was broken. So when she came in one morning, she found the tools missing in her bin and a treasure map instead sending her to find the new one Derek had purchased for her.
“I was pretty smitten after that,” she said.
Still, she resisted a romantic relationship knowing that she would soon head to New York City to work. The two would meet before dawn at Café Coco, the 24-hour coffee shop, after he ended his shift and she headed into hers. When she left the hotel job, Derek ended up going to New York with her where they shared a room in an apartment with two other roommates.
“If you opened the dresser you had to climb over the bed," Kayla said of their tiny space. But she added that the experience in New York proved invaluable.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, the chefs -- both owners of Blushing Berry Chocolates and Kayla the pastry chef at Josephine -- made the perfect pair to feature in our Guest Chef Series. We were delighted to get to know them at our first RISE event in December, and they agreed to return to the kitchen for a volunteer shift.
“They don’t usually let me make meatloaf at Josephine,” Kayla said as they both joked about cooking on the savory side rather than the sweet. “If you want me to cook stuff on the hot line, I need a lot of instruction.”
But of course they handled the meal for 75 people at John Glenn retirement home with ease. Kayla cracked eggs, one in each hand, for a mixture of donated venison from Hunters for the Hungry and blend of spices as Derek chopped bacon for a pot of green beans. Sweet potatoes softened in a pot of boiling water and would soon be whipped with molasses. “I have to add a little sugar,” she said.
Kayla grew up in Alabama and took an interest in pastry while on a trip to Paris. When her sister and traveling companion caught a case of the flu, Kayla spent her days wandering into pastry shops marveling at the beauty and the detail behind the glass cases. Despite a family in medicine (her mother is a doctor and her sister will soon begin her residency), she promptly changed course from a scholarship to study pre-med at Auburn University to the French Culinary Institute in New York.
“She was super-supportive,” Kayla said of her mother. “I really haven’t thought about much else (but pastry) since.”
Derek grew up in Indiana and attended Connecticut Culinary Institute and worked in Chicago before coming to Nashville. Both chefs are happy to be back in Music City after their time in New York. They’re preparing for a busy Valentine's season and scouting new locations for their Blushing Berry business. And after marrying in 2014, they’ve been putting down roots here, which thankfully means giving back by helping at The Nashville Food Project, too.
"It's always nice," Kayla said, "to help out with something you do as your career in the community."
Pro Tips from Kayla and Derek:
- Pastries and breads freeze nicely for serving later, which helps cut down on food waste.
- Be prepared. “Panicking never helps,” Derek says. They both like to stay ahead of the game throughout the week. “If you’re not ahead, you’re probably behind,” Kayla says.
- It’s okay if every dish at home doesn't turn out perfectly. Experimentation leads to improvement. “It doesn’t always have to taste good,” Derek said. “Next time you’ll know how to do it better.”
- Learn to think on your feet and improvise in the kitchen. It’s another way to keep from wasting food.
- Knowing the purpose of ingredients helps reduce waste and makes a better cook. Knowing that eggs stabilize and add volume, for example, makes it easier to substitute with what’s on hand.
- And on keeping a trim figure as a pastry chef? “Work in a kitchen,” Kayla says, where employees stay busy. “I think that’s why I love vegetables so much. It’s what our body needs and wants at the end of a long day.”
On the Menu:
Kayla and Derek prepared meatloaf with mashed sweet potatoes and green beans flavored with pork. To replicate their meal, try these recipes.
Kayla and Derek will be holding a sweetheart special during Valentine's week at Blushing Berry Chocolates. Any gentleman who visits the shop to buy a 12-piece or 24-piece chocolate box for a special someone will get two free Bourbon truffles for the purchase.
Valentine's truffle flavors available now and through the holiday include the following:
Bailey's Irish Cream
For more information, click here or call 615.852.8128.
For reservations at Josephine, visit here or call 615.292.7766.