The coronavirus may linger, but it won't deter us from honoring what's great in the world of Dallas food and drink, as we celebrate the 2020 Tastemaker Awards, CultureMap Dallas' annual celebration of bars, restaurants, chefs, beer, and wine.
This year, the category for Best Pastry Chef includes not only the wizards who spin sugar into magic but also the entrepreneurs who've brought to Dallas an unprecedented variety of world-famous sweets. When it comes to desserts and baked treats, we've never had it so good.
A panel of judges helped narrow down these 10 nominees. A final winner will be announced at our Virtual Party which takes place on July 30.
Maurice Ahern - Gold Ribbon Confections
Family was the inspiration for baker Maurice Ahern, who opened Gold Ribbon in Arlington in 2017. His father and his grandmother were both avid hobby bakers, and he worked with other chefs in Florida and in Texas. But when his son died of cancer at age 6, Ahern opened Gold Ribbon in his honor. He's a favorite go-to for wedding and celebration cakes, and is known for his delectable cheesecakes and pies. He's currently selling cinnamon rolls, mini-pies, cookies, and other treats online for curbside pickup, and will be opening Grounds & Gold Co., a retail bakery and coffee shop, in Dalworthington Gardens in August.
Kelly Ball - Leila Bakery
Kelly Ball had a thriving business selling her baked goods to coffee shops, restaurants, and farmers markets for three years under the name "Naturally Curly Cook," befire opening Leila Bakery in East Dallas in February. She makes everything from scratch, in an almost homemade fashion, including bread dough, and shapes all of her crusts by hand. She's visited Eastern Europe and that inspired her baking, with doughs that are prototypically moist and dense in the Eastern European style. She's known for quiches and kolaches, and for her unique signature style of "deep dish" pie, with the sides measuring more than three inches high.
German Rodriguez Daza - Amorino
This Paris-born chain, known for fashioning gelato into picture-perfect cones, specializes in gelato and sorbet, in 24 flavors such as chocolate, strawberry, gianduia, honey lavender, pistachio, and melon. Their presentation is unique, with scoops formed into "petals." There are more than 180 locations worldwide, including a dozen in the U.S. The first DFW store opened in 2018 at the Shops at Clearfork in Fort Worth, and a shop opened in Plano in 2019. The guy who brought all of this sweet magic to us is German Rodriguez Daza, a savvy entrepreneur who knows his gelato inside-out.
Tracy Dowd - Piefalootin
Dowd quit her day job seven years ago to launch her own pie business, supplying pies to places like Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House. In 2019, she fulfilled her goal of bringing a dedicated pie shop to Garland - a place where people can buy whole pies or sit down and have a slice, maybe with a cup of coffee. She does classics like coconut cream pie, Key lime, and Texas pecan, but she also offers original creations not found at any other pie shop in the world such as her interesting twist on cheesecake pie with a layer of fruit filling, and then a cheesecake-like topping on top.
Sheila Phalen-Miller - Better Than Sex Desserts
Better Than Sex was a concept founded in Florida that serves two things: beverages and desserts with a little naughty on the side. The concept began to franchise in 2018 and in 2019, was brought to Texas by Sheila Phalen-Miller and Derrick Miller, who opened a location in historic downtown Plano. Just like the original, their menu includes desserts with "racy" names, such as Between My Red Velvet Sheets Cheesecake, Popcorn Pimp Cheesecake, and Peanut Butter Perversion. It's been popular for parties, dates, and girls' night out, and it's dedicated to desserts, so what more could you ask.
Leonel Rodríguez - San Martin Bakery & Restaurant
Dallas is extraordinarily lucky to have its own location of San Martín Artisan Bakery & Restaurant, a Guatemala-based concept founded in 1974 with 41 locations in Guatemala and eight in El Salvador. Combining bakery, pastry shop, and restaurant, they're not like anything else around. They're always at the ready, for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner, as well as an entire bakery. Their selection includes baked goods you don't see elsewhere, such as their apple-filled croissant, like an apple pie in a croissant form. Their baker is Leonel Rodríguez, who has more than 30 years of experience.
Maricsa Trejo - La Casita Bakeshop
Trejo started out as a cook before branching off into pastry. She learned the craft by working with a variety of acclaimed pastry chefs in Dallas and beyond, before opening La Casita with her boyfriend and partner, Alex Henderson, in 2017. They started out as wholesale only before expanding to regular customers. They're not open every day, which seems to only increase the appetite for her gorgeous goods including croissants, muffins, and cruffins — a cross between a croissant and a muffin — in flavors such as dulce de leche. They also do a treat called a bostock, like a cross between a croissant and toast topped with cream and fruit.
Rebecca Velázquez/Alexandre Micka - La Tarte Tropézienne
La Tarte Tropézienne was established by Alexandre Micka in 1955 in the village of Saint-Tropez. The signature pastry is the Tarte Tropézienne, which features a blend of two creams piped onto a sweet gourmet brioche and sprinkled with sugar. Current owner Albert Dufrêne always had a dream to open a store in the United States when Jan Marien and Rebecca Velazquez came along. Velazquez came from a TV production background and does not pretend to be a chef. But the recipe is a closely kept secret, and Velazquez went to their lab and trained 10 hours a day to make it. Their takeout menu also includes sandwiches, charcuterie, caviar, pastries and desserts.
Kate Weiser - Kate Weiser Chocolate
Weiser first wowed Dallas while making chocolates for Chocolate Secrets, a shop on Oak Lawn Avenue, before opening her own sho at Trinity Groves. Her chocolates are impeccably made, with their glossy domed surfaces and trademark splashes of color. Flavors include Grand Marnier, orange butterscotch, sweet potato, caramelized pineapple, and buttery popcorn. Other confections include chocolate bars, caramels, chocolate lollipops, and macarons. Weiser is legendarily nimble, ready to do holiday pop-ups or devise signature treats for high-profile venues such as the annual Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog.
Diana Zamora - Lockwood Distilling
Zamora has a wide bank of experience that includes catering as well as restaurants. For more than a decade she worked at Celebration Restaurant, and has done pastry for chefs such as Avner Samuel and at restaurants that include Foxyco, Stock & Barrel, and Mockingbird Diner. At Lockwood, she did fun desserts like ice cream sandwiches, using ice cream from local company Sweet Firefly. She's also a dedicated activist; during these COVID-19 days, she's been working with the Harvest Project, which feeds hungry kids and families.