Scott Green started out in art and design before moving on and becoming a pastry chef. After teaching and working at a number of restaurants he is now the Pastry Chef at Travelle in Chicago. Keep reading as we talk about how he came to be a Pastry Chef, teaching, having a blog and of course his guilty pleasures.
You started out in Art & Design but dropped out of school and decided to be a Pastry Chef instead, what happened?
I went to art school essentially by default. I was a serious slacker in high school and was planning on joining the Marine Corps when a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago became my clearest (and only) path to college.
Once I got there, I realized quickly I didn’t want a career in fine art. I was already looking to leave when I happened to watch a pastry competition on Food Network in my dorm one night. The chefs that won the competition owned a pastry school in Chicago, literally blocks from where I was living.
I still don’t know quite what drew me to it, but it wasn’t long before I had dropped out of art school officially and had enrolled in the pastry program, with absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. After that one job became two became three and then it was a career.
What type of art where you studying for?
My major in art school was oil painting and illustration. They were natural talents of mine and things I really enjoyed doing, but something was missing. It wasn’t until later in life that I could define my aversion to fine art as a profession was because it was too much emotional engagement without the technical thinking and process I also crave.
Pastry (and graphic design, which I eventually did get a degree in) is the perfect balance of left and right-brained thinking that has proven to be really satisfying to me creatively.
Have you ever regretted going into the pastry profession?
I don’t know that I’ve ever regretted a career in pastry, but I’ve always had a lot of passions and interests, so it’s been natural for me to wonder ”what if”. I’ve always thought I would have thrived in the military or law enforcement.
It sounds strange but a lot of the skill set I think would make me a good cop or soldier – a desire to serve and sacrifice for others, meticulous and disciplined thinking and planning, the ability to quickly adapt to any situation – has made me a good pastry chef.
Before Travelle you were teaching at The French Pastry School, what made you go back to a restaurant and do you miss teaching?
From my time at FPS I have gained even more respect for career teachers of all varieties because it is too often a thankless job that requires the patience of a saint. There was a lot I enjoyed about teaching and I definitely learned a lot about myself and my craft, but I don’t miss it. I still love to teach others and I love teaching short-term seminars, but it isn’t something I could do as a full-time career.
Ultimately, I got into this profession to be cooking in the kitchen, free to create new dishes, and I couldn’t do that the way I wanted to when I was held to a curriculum in a classroom.
You have a great blog called Devil’s Food Kitchen where both professional and home cooks get great tips and tricks for how to create great desserts. What made you start the blog?
Thanks! I started DFK for three major reasons, all of which have real meaning to me. Like I said before, I do love to teach and share what I know with others, so the first reason in creating the blog was as an outlet to share what I know with the world without being in a strict classroom setting.
Secondly, I wanted to make a baking/pastry blog that was visually appealing, fun and entertaining to read, but didn’t cut corners in terms of technical explanation and professional tips and advice. Almost all of the baking blogs I could find did one of those, but not the other.
Lastly, I want to show people that anyone, and I mean anyone, can create amazing baked goods and desserts if they take a little time and preparation and are shown the steps in a clear and easy to understand manner. The stigma in this country that desserts are exceptionally difficult or finicky to make has got to go.
The aesthetics of a dessert is very important, even more than with other food I would say. How much of your designs would you say come from your background in art?
It’s hard to understate how much my background in art and design influences the look of my work. I treat every dessert like an artistic composition, and although at this point I’m applying artistic fundamentals in a subconscious way, they are present in everything I make.
How would you describe your cuisine?
Eclectic and thoughtful I think might best describe it. Every element of my desserts is intentional and always has my customer in mind. I will never create something that looks good on Instagram but doesn’t taste amazing, which is a growing trend that really saddens me.
The style of my work, the ingredients I work with and the inspiration for them is always changing and evolving, so I’ve never put a hard label to what I create in that sense.
Do you have a process when creating new dishes?
My dishes always start from one of three places: an ingredient/flavor I want to work with, a technique I want to use, or a look I want to achieve. From there I sketch a lot, almost creating blueprints of my work. I’ll sketch the dish several times, each time I do building it and eating it in my head to try and tease out any possible issues or challenges before I ever start working with actual food.
At the end of the day it all comes back to the dessert being delicious, so if the original idea gets in the way of that it has to change. You can’t be married to an idea if it isn’t going to produce good food.
In many top restaurants, the desserts are a bit unorthodox, using vegetables and making the desserts less sweet. How do you feel about that style of desserts?
Ultimately if the dessert is delicious and flows with the rest of the meal then I’m all for it. If I’m being honest, I think a lot of chefs jump on these type of trends without fully investing in mastering them first, and a lot of desserts are then made that sound intriguing on a menu but end up as a failure when you eat them.
You have to walk before you can run, and losing yourself in keeping up with the newest gimmick is like a knife at your back pushing you to move faster than you might be comfortable with. Yeah, sorrel sounds cool on your menu, but what does it taste like in your dish? I don’t think enough chefs are asking themselves those basic questions, or worse, are rationalizing the answer they want at the expense of the dining experience.
Do you have a guilty pleasure in food?
Absolutely. Pleasures. Plural. I wasn’t born a chef, so all of the junk I grew up eating is still good to me. It’s all about expectation. If I’m at a convenience store, I’m not expecting to buy foie and caviar and if I’m at a Michelin star restaurant, don’t give me Cheetos. In that context, everything is fair game.
What is your favorite culinary destination?
I could never pick a favorite, every place I’ve been has had at least one or two amazing bites. I know it’s cliche, but I will say that being in France is always incredible simply because of how natural and commonplace artisan food is. It isn’t a movement or a trend, it’s just how they live.
Every few blocks have a butcher and a patisserie and a boulangerie and a cheese shop, and they just service the houses around them. A few blocks later it starts all over again. Farmer’s markets aren’t something to go to for a fun date, it’s how they get their food. I love it.
Who do you think I should interview at Ateriet?
Della Gossett, the pastry chef at Spago Beverly Hills. She’s perhaps the nicest human I’ve ever met.
Name: Scott Green
Current city: Chicago, IL
Previous profession: Rebellious teenager
Favourite quote: Starve the ego. Feed the soul.
To keep up with Scott Green I highly recommend both his Instagram and his pastry blog. You’ll find him @chef_scottgreen and the blog is called Devil’s Food Kitchen and you can also follow the blog on Facebook. If you want to learn how to create great desserts with every detailed explained, this is where you should go.
About Travelle Kitchen + Bar
Travelle Kitchen + Bar is the main restaurant in the Langham Hotel in Chicago. The hotel is located on 330 North Wabash Ave just steps away from Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile. On the second floor inside the hotel you’ll find Travelle Kitchen + Bar where you’ll get the chance to try the desserts created by Scott Green and food by Chef Ricardo Jarquin who I previously interviewed here at Ateriet, read that Chef Q&A here.
Travelle Kitchen + Bar is opened daily for dinner and breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday. For menus and reservations visit them online here and do check out the Langham on Facebook and Instagram as well.
About Ateriet’s Chef Q&A
Chef Q&A at Ateriet is my way of giving great chefs the respect they deserve. I interview chefs from all over the world with the stuff I want to know. If you know a chef I should interview or have any other suggestions don’t be afraid to let me know, just leave a comment or send an email. You can read my other Chef Q&A’s here or explore all these great chefs and restaurants in my Chef Q&A Map, you’ll find it here.