As a child growing up in Dallas, Kendall Melton loved helping her mom in the kitchen. She started with small tasks at age 6 and gradually took on more responsibilities. But her favorite activity was baking, and when her mom brought home The Teddy Bear Baker, a book for young cooks, she was hooked.
Austin baker Kendall Melton studied theater but chose the kitchen stage for her career. Photo By Laura Crow
“I went through it page by page, baking every recipe in that book,” said Kendall, now a professional pastry chef at a hot, new restaurant in Austin, Texas. “My mom loved the peanut butter cookies and asked me to make those for her all the time.”
Kendall didn’t start out to be a baker. She loved theater and received a degree in theater arts from Loyola Marymount University. After a stint working in Hollywood, she returned to her baking roots, earning a certification in baking and pastry arts from Texas Culinary Academy in Austin. She believes both career fields have a lot in common.
“Every day you're pushing your limits, preparing for service, which is very similar to preparing for the production of a play,” she said. “Improvisation is essential in acting, and being able to adapt to changing situations and successfully deliver is your goal every day in a kitchen.”
Though Kendall has a healthy repertoire of recipes, creating something new is always a thrill. “It's especially thrilling when it works exactly the way you wanted it to, or you're able to fix it by improvising if it's not exactly what you envisioned,” she said.
Kendall has cooked for the famous, including “Anthony Bourdain, chef, author and star of the TV show “No Reservations,” who visited the Austin eatery one evening. “He had one of my homemade challah buns, the foundation for our burger,” she said. “I had a mild coronary when I heard that.”
She also enjoys decorating her cakes, cookies and cupcakes. “I've become far less stressed about it in recent months,” she said. “In all reality, it's sugar. And if it doesn't work, fix it. If that doesn't work, move on, and come back to it later. Stress and anxiety about baking is unnecessary.”
She also claims she has the best job in Austin. “Being a cook, working in a kitchen, your education never ends,” she said. “It's exhilarating to learn how to salt cure egg yolks or watch what nitrogen does to orange segments.”
Kendall has graciously shared a few of her baking secrets:
• If you can get leaf lard (pig fat available from some butchers) for pie crusts, you'll have a much more tender crust versus using butter.
• Use vodka instead of water in the crust, as well.
• Never bake cookies at 350, always 360 degrees. The edges are crisper, and the middles stay tender.
Don't forget to check out her post for her in-demand Banana Muffins with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting recipe.
Pat Pape is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She lives just north of Dallas on five acres, dubbed Pigs Fly Ranch, along with her husband, cats, dogs and pygmy goats. She loves homemade baked goods.