Amy Sayles, pastry chef of Panzano: "I grew up with In-N-Out, and there is no abandonment of tradition"
This is part one of my interview with Amy Sayles, pastry chef of Panzano; part two of our chat will run tomorrow.
"Baking is just part of my family's culture," declares Amy Sayles, a native of Orange County who spent her childhood soaking up sugar, an early precursor to her position as pastry chef at Panzano. "I think I started baking when I was around three, and I remember having cookie bakes every year, plus my grandmother had a bakery in Germany, so it definitely runs in the family," says Sayles, whose first journey into the professional world of confections came when she was sweet sixteen and spinning shakes at a retro diner. "I was the designated fountain girl," she quips. But while the job started out as an after-school pastime, it quickly turned into an experimental playground: "I loved creating new flavors and having fun with different flavor combinations, and without my really knowing it at the time, it was a sign of things to come."
See also: Chef and Tell: Elise Wiggins of Panzano
She moved to Arizona and enrolled in the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, marching her way through an accelerated one-year program that gave her the opportunity to do an externship at Montage, a luxurious coastline property in Laguna Beach, California, that boasts several restaurants. The externship evolved into a permanent post, and Sayles eventually became the assistant to the head pastry chef. "There was so much knowledge in that kitchen, and I was always learning something new -- a new technique, a new way to make ice cream -- and while I thought I knew a lot, along came this job that taught me ha, just kidding; I still had a lot to learn, and the pastry chef at the time, Maren Henderson, was a great teacher," recalls Styles, who would work with Henderson again at Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's in Costa Mesa.
She spent several more years doing pastry at various restaurants across California before a jaunt to Nebraska resulted in an epiphany. "It's a little hoity-toity in California, and I went to Omaha for a wedding, and everyone was so friendly -- there was none of the cattiness I was used to -- and when a friend told me that she was moving to Denver, I came out here to visit and loved it, and then I made the move," she says.
Like so many pastry chefs before her, Sayles wound up at Restaurant Kevin Taylor and was hired on the spot, she remembers, as the assistant pastry chef. But when the slow season hit, she found herself looking for a second job, and a friend who'd worked with her at Taylor's signature restaurant was now at Panzano. Sayles left Restaurant Kevin Taylor altogether to join her...two days before the start of the 2013 Denver Restaurant Week. "I like to hit the ground running -- that's what I'm known for, and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," jokes Sayles. But Elise Wiggins, Panzano's executive chef, made the transition effortless, she adds. "I love working for Elise. She's got the spunk and the fire, she's very straightforward, and she gives me constant opportunities to be creative," says Sayles, who in the following interview warns that blueberries and coffee are not a harmonious pairing, divulges that salted butter is a big mistake in baking, and explains why a Neapolitan shake from In-N-Out Burger would be her last-day-on-earth sugar finale.