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Long one of the unsung heroes of the kitchen, pastry chefs are coming into their own. Perhaps due to the popularity of reality TV shows such as “Cake Boss” and “Top Chef Desserts,” the patissier can now come out from behind his or her whisk and into the spotlight. Here in Rhode Island, national fame has found one such chef hiding her light under a pastry tube.
Melissa Denmark, pastry chef of Gracie’s in Providence, has been nominated by Food & Wine magazine as one of the 50 best new pastry chefs in the country. She is in the running for the first-ever People’s Best New Pastry Chef Award. “We are so proud of Melissa and her nomination,” said Ellen Gracyalny, owner of Gracie’s. “It’s exciting to see Food & Wine recognize the excellence that we see each and every day through Melissa’s special craft. Her creations tie our menu together beautifully; from the bread starters to that last delicious bite of dessert. We encourage anyone who has indulged in Melissa’s breads and desserts to support her work by voting for her.”
Denmark is a 2010 Johnson & Wales University graduate. The culinary university has long been known for turning out graduates with great skill in baking and pastry art. For years, Johnson & Wales University has been renowned in the world of patisserie, as the art of creating pastry is known. Faculty members such as Cyril Hitz have led teams from JWU to pastry competitions all over the world. Hitz has published books on baking and pastry creation and is in demand for guest chef appearances, including Gracie’s own “Star Chef Series.” There are exhibitions of stunning cake creations at the university’s Culinary Museum. So it is not surprising that the tradition of excellence in pastry creation has continued to Denmark’s spot in the running.
“It’s an honor to be selected to participate in this competition,” said Denmark of her nomination. “I’m truly lucky to work in a restaurant such as Gracie’s, where I’m constantly inspired to grow and develop as a pastry chef.”
Magazine editors determined the nominees with help from an ad hoc national network of food journalists and chefs.
“There is so much innovation in the pastry world right now, and we are excited to have the chance to celebrate it,” said Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Dana Cowin. “Our new pastry awards allow us to spotlight cooking pros who don’t generally get the same recognition as the executive chefs for whom they work.”