Kris Padalino, pastry chef of Bittersweet: "I despise cupcakes"
This is part one of my interview with Kris Padalino, pastry chef at Bittersweet; part two of our chat will run tomorrow.
Kris Padalino never envisioned herself as a pastry chef. Sure, she grew up in a big Italian family that feasted on pasta, her grandfather is a butcher and her brother is a chef, but Padalino's initial career goal had absolutely nothing to do with food. "I have degrees in biology and math and wanted to go to med school and become an anesthesiologist," recalls Padalino, the 29-year-old pastry chef at Bittersweet.
But the thought of working in a lab struck her as boring, she admits, so she began baking wedding and birthday cakes -- an extension of her obsession with painting -- for friends and family on the side, and she never looked back. "I paint, and I like food a lot," she explains, "so I started baking cakes for fun and reading up on pastry chefs, and I was so struck by the creativity of their pieces that I was completely blown away and realized that I could be stuck in a lab all day long or go to culinary school and at least learn the basics of pastry." She attended Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, and the more courses she took, "the more I loved the craft," she says. "My passion just kept on growing with every class." Padalino landed an enviable externship at Campanile, which turned into a two-year pastry stint under the tutelage of renowned pastry chef Meadow Ramsey. "She's a very straightforward chef, but she was always happy to teach me and answer my questions, and I have so much admiration and respect for her," says Padalino, who then went on to create desserts at Michael's in Santa Monica, where she was hired as the executive pastry chef by Michael McCarty, who also founded the famed Santa Monica Farmers' Market.
But after seven years of doing time in California kitchens, Padalino, her chef boyfriend and her daughter wanted a change of scenery, and Denver seemed like a natural move. "We had friends here, the culinary scene was starting to heat up, and it was a lot cheaper, so we picked up our things and moved here in early 2012," says Padalino, whose first taste of the Mile High City was composing desserts for Kevin Taylor. "I was hired to do the pastries for all of his restaurants, and it was a great job, but I didn't have as much creative freedom as I would have liked, and I really needed to focus on just one -- maybe two -- restaurants. Five was just way, way too much, so I started to look for another job." She found it on Craigslist. "I saw an ad for Bittersweet and didn't know a thing about the restaurant, but I got an interview, staged a few days later, and knew this was a really amazing and creative place where I could learn and grow," says Padalino, who in the following interview admits that she despises cupcakes, pleads for a resurgence of chocolate cake, and explains why culinary school is better than the school of hard knocks.