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July 1st, 2014
Q&A Cher Harris
Pastry Chef at Hotel Hershey, Hershey PA and Winner of 2013 "Pastry Queen" Award.
How did you get into the business?
I have always worked in food service, starting in local pizza shops and diners. This is what puts me through my first round of college and after I realized that I truly enjoyed the kitchen and perhaps I should consider a career in food service. I kept working under individuals that were willing to teach throughout candy shops, restaurants and a country club.
Who had the biggest impact on your career?
With now twenty plus years in a kitchen, I would have to name two individuals. First being the pastry chef whom took the time to teach me all the basics I needed during my transition from savory to sweet, Peter Kovalec. I was not ever trained formally in pastry or baking, but on-the-job. Allowing me to learn and holding me accountable for high standards of quality.
Second would be more recently, Susan Notter. With my desire to get into the competition realm about two years ago, I approached Chef Notter to help me. While I was preparing for a try-out for a competition with her, she approached me about the Pastry Queen Competition and if I was willing to put in the time to train for this. She felt that I had what it would take to train for this and I was fortunate that we live fairly close to one another.
And ever since, she has continued to be gracious with her time and recommendations for my professional advancement.
What led to your arrival at Hotel Hershey?
I grew up in this area and The Hotel Hershey is the pinnacle of this area- so of course, it has always been a goal of mine to get here. In preparation I was on an opening team of a Casino locally (before coming to Hershey) and this was an experience unlike any other. It prepared me for hiring, recipes, menus and staff training, not to mention the huge amount of production needed for the casino.
What role does pastry and baking play at the hotel?
It is a part of almost every outlet/venue and we are the ones who often start people’s day with breakfast pastries and end it with dessert or a turndown amenity. Travelers coming to Hershey are expecting a lot of sweets!
What led you to get involved in competitive baking?
I felt I needed to challenge myself. My everyday world does certainly do that, but in a different way. I had been watching a lot of competitions for a few years and I wanted to increase my skills in showpieces and this could be one way. But competing also gives you a different mind set that you need for time management and commitment to balancing your life. It is very humbling at the same time.
What did it mean to win one of the world's most prestigious competitions (The Pastry Queen!)?
I can’t even explain how amazing this was. I was so relaxed while in Italy at the competition and just enjoyed the experience. During the last day (7 hours of competing) I was more nervous, but remained calm and just did the best that I could. After Japan and France were called up for 2nd and 3rd place, I had a feeling that I might actually have a chance- and it was so amazing, and so great to see the joy on Chef Notter’s face.
How has the business changed since you began?
People are definitely more aware of what we do. Sometimes there are those who think you can just do anything without the consideration of time- things on TV are not actually made in that one hour show, you know!
How have your customers’ tastes evolved?
People are more aware of textures and flavor combinations.
What equipment is vital to your being able to execute consistent quality?
A good hearth Deck oven, my Irinox Blast Chiller, a VitaPrep and an immersion blender.
What's your advice on what it takes to be successful in this industry?
Work hard and stick to consistent high quality.
Crystal ball ... what lies ahead for you?
Not sure… I’m ready to just work with my staff a bit more again and get back to more focus there. I do still have the competition bug in me and will be going to Pastry Live in Atlanta and looking at some other future opportunities.
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