A Pastry Chef from Heaven
A PASTRY CHEF FROM HEAVEN
AN INTERVIEW WITH DANA IANNELLI, PASTRY CHEF AT ADDISONRESERVE COUNTRY CLUB
I met Dana Iannelli in 2015 when I needed Chefs and Pastry Chefs to assist with a cook book I was shooting for Rick Dees titled "Rick Dees Top 40 Desserts of All Time". Executive Chef Rhy Waddington of Winged Foot Golf Club recommended Dana, and she flew up from Addison Reserve Country Club in Delray Beach, Florida to do the shoot. I knew immediately the talent she was, and I needed to work with her again. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Tell us a little about your background.
I come from a big Italian family, that prides itself on great food. At home, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom, cooking with her recipes and my Grandmothers’, even experimenting with my own. As a child, playing Chef with my Easy Bake Oven seemed to be a strong indicator to my family that my future would lead to the food industry [laughs]. I loved watching my family react to my kitchen creations, wanting to please my “Grams” the most!
We lived in South Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia. My mother, a talented cook herself, turned our home into a daycare center. My brother, sister, and I enjoyed being her helpers. In high school, I took extracurricular culinary classes, and my learning experiences there, along with the confidence and support of my teacher, solidified my desire to go to culinary school.
I was determined to attend the CIA (Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York) and I knew, that to be accepted, I had to gain experience and earn working hours in restaurants before I applied. I took a part-time position at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City in the summer of 2001 and there I met Pastry Chef Tom Vaccaro. I had a strong desire of becoming a Chef, I was working in the savory kitchen (not thinking I would ever do pastry). Chef Tom was on the Culinary Olympic Team at the time, and he mentored me, from showing me how to hold my knife to sharing insights about culinary school and the industry. I was determined to be accepted to the CIA (Chef Tom’s alma mater), I had entered and won cooking competitions, hosted many dinner parties for practice, and worked at the local farmer’s market bakery. In 2002, I applied to the CIA, nervous if I could make the selective cut, but was accepted! I graduated high school June of 2002 and was at the CIA that August and enrolled in the Associates Culinary Arts degree program.
GK: Why pastry?
My past experiences have been focused on cooking, but I was required to take a three-week baking course, Baking Fundamentals, it instantly changed my direction. I had never realized just how much I enjoyed baking, and I knew that I had found my true passion for the industry.
Upon graduating from the Culinary Associates Degree Program, I enrolled in the 30-week Baking and Pastry Program at the CIA’s Napa Valley, California campus. These classes were quite different than anything I knew of coming from the savory kitchen, but as I tempered chocolate, kneaded bread, and decorated cakes I knew I had found my calling. Cake Designing was my desired concentration and remained so even upon my return to the CIA.
After graduating Baking and Pastry at the CIA, California, I quickly went back to Hyde Park, New York to complete a Bachelor’s degree program in Hospitality Management to gain the skills I would need to fulfill my dream of having my own business in the future. To my surprise, my mentor Chef Tom was the new Dean of Baking and Pastry as well as head of the Continuing Education department; he needed an assistant in the class to help all the Continuing Education students, so I took on that role.
I graduated from the CIA in 2006 with a Bachelors in Hospitality Management, and with the support of Chef Tom, landed my first job in the industry working with Pastry Chef Patricia Nash at Westchester Country Club, Rye, New York, to perfect my skills in large production and catering to a prestigious clientele. I never looked back. Pastry was my home.
While at Westchester Country Club, during the slow season, I emailed just about every cake designer in NYC and acquired an internship at The Cake Studio in Brooklyn with Jill Adams. I worked as an intern there for a few months; she taught me everything I needed to know about cakes and design. My internship transitioned into a job as Jill’s assistant, and I worked for her for three years.
I went on to Strada 18 (Norwalk, CT) to hone in on my management skills and plated desserts followed by The Sono Baking Company (Norwalk, CT) where I was Pastry Sous Chef and Kitchen Manager. I was then selected as the Executive Pastry Chef at Winged Foot Golf Club.
GK: Tell us about Winged Foot?
I began working at Winged Foot in 2010. This was truly my first Pastry Chef position. Winged Foot has done everything for my career in the Golf Club industry. Having Winged Foot on my resume just opens so many doors for me. My pastry career accelerated quickly, and I didn't get to work under or be mentored by another pastry chef other than my time at Westchester. I didn't know what I was getting into taking the Pastry Chef job at Winged Foot as I was so young, it was a challenge, but with hard work, determination, colleague support, and a wonderful membership it was a success! I loved my time at Winged Foot, and I have come to love working in the Golf Industry.
I learned many aspects of Pastry and Baking due to the memberships vast palettes and the sheer amount of events that would take place.
One funny story, is that I had never played Golf, and when asked by others if I ever played Golf, I would say "Oh only a few times at Winged Foot," and they are so jealous, people would give their right arm to play golf there. [laughs]
GK: What is it like working at a Golf Club as a Pastry Chef?
I think the Golf Club industry is very advantageous because it is a natural learning environment. I bake and cook for the same people seven days a week, all day long, so it’s important for me to offer variety and new, creative desserts on my menu. I am constantly learning new recipes and practicing new pastry designs to ensure there is always something for the members to be excited about.
Working in a Golf Club allows me to excel professionally because I am not limited to one aspect of baking. I create plated desserts, design wedding cakes, and buffets. I feel lucky to have to have the opportunity to “do it all!”
GK: What was the catalyst that made you move from Winged Foot to Florida?
I was moving onto a new chapter in my life which took me to South Florida. The move to leave family, friends and Winged Foot was NOT an easy decision, but I knew my career would continue to grow in the golf world being in the country club capital of Florida.
GK: How did you get the job at Addison Reserve Country Club?
On my last day at Winged Foot, Colin Burns, the General Manager came to me and said, "look, I just got this letter from Gulfstream Golf Club, and they are in dire need of a pastry chef." I took the job, it was a small club with about 300 members, and I stayed there for one season. I enjoyed Gulfstream, but because it is a seasonal club, with fewer members than Winged Foot and a smaller volume demand from which I was accustomed. I wanted to continue growing professionally, so I hoped to move to a year-round club where I could challenge myself further.
I had found out from a friend who is a headhunter, who knew that Zach Bell, Executive Chef at Addison Reserve was looking for a new pastry chef. This was a year-round club with a highly acclaimed Chef, so I knew this could be a good step in moving my career forward. I sent Chef Zach an email, I came to bake for him, and he hired me. I am now in my fifth season.
GK: Are you enjoying Addison Reserve?
I love it here. Working with Chef Zach is great. He has been an invaluable mentor for me thus far. He supports my desire to travel and learn by staging me with different Chefs, for example, last year I staged at Restaurant Daniel in New York for two weeks. He is very supportive and allows me to create the desserts and pastries that I like; he challenges me to think creatively, to learn it is ok to fail and gives me the freedom to excel. I enjoy working with the entire Addison team, and of course my pastry team of four. It’s wonderful to have so much support.
GK: Tell us about working with General Manager Michael McCarthy?
I enjoy working with Michael. His dedication to the club inspires the employees. He is very supportive and wants us to keep innovating. He provides the best equipment and product available, much that the average restaurant would not have access to. I love this!
Michael has an open door policy and is always willing to chat and share ideas; he makes me feel that I am part of the Addison family: I love my second family!
GK: Tell us some of the challenges you faced when adjusting?
I had to learn many Jewish desserts, I had never worked in a predominantly Jewish club, and was not exposed to those delights, but now after a short hazing period [laughs], I have created some favorites that the members love. I enjoy testing out new recipes and creating desserts the members enjoy. We have a great rapport, and they will often share their desires or ideas with me, and I, in turn, bring them to life.
GK: You are enjoying giving back through the non-profit JARC, tell us about that.
One of our members here at Addison brought JARC to our attention. "JARC" is a non-profit organization whose mission is to enrich the lives of people with disabilities through gentle and loving support, valued relationships, and engagement with the community with Jewish values. The purpose of the JARC program is to prepare its members for working in the field, and Addison Reserve supports this program by offering its kitchen as a learning environment.
We started working with them about six months ago, and it is has been a success. They come to the Addison pastry kitchen twice a week and perform various tasks from peeling vegetables to portioning cookie dough or making cake pops. We work together from 9:30am to 1:30pm on jobs that excite them. They enjoy it here, and I love working with them; it's very gratifying.
~ by Diana DeLucia