The Gale Gand Interview

Gale Gand Gives Good Pastry

GaleGand author photo_Stephen Hamilton  tif

Gale Gand is a fellow dessert maven who has done so much for our sphere of interest it boggles the mind. My introduction to Gale was through her multi-year turn as host of the Food Network series “Sweet Dreams,” the first nationally televised all-dessert show. And then as the founding pastry chef and partner of the acclaimed Chicago restaurant Tru, (opened with long-time culinary partner Chef Rick Tramonto in 1999). In her free time she has created an artisanal root beer company, raised three kids, written several books, opened a burger restaurant, Spritz Burger with a Next Food Network Star winner, and was recognized as Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year by The James Beard Foundation and Bon Appetit magazine – and has been inducted into the Chicago Chefs Hall of Fame. And this is just a taste of her accomplishments. I spoke with her about her book, Gale Gand’s Lunch!, and about her approach to dessert and baking.

Gale Gand's Lunch jacket


Gale, so great to speak with you. Thank you for taking the time…you are one busy woman! You are coming to my neck of the woods soon to teach a class at Different Drummer’s Kitchen in Northampton, MA…

Yes, on April 17th. It’s a Backyard Buffet Class featuring a Pavolva for dessert!


These recipes you are teaching are from your book that I want to talk to you about…of course there are many savory recipes, but I am focusing on the sweet – and your background in general, which is so interesting. Tell us about how this all started for you.

Pastry is my passion as well as my career…I was waitressing in Cleveland while in art school…it was a vegetarian restaurant and one of the line cooks didn’t show up. The boss says, “Gale come cook”! Now I’m from the North shore – we make reservations! I was forced into the kitchen…ultimately, really, this career picked me, I didn’t pick it…I had 6 seconds of terror but I had baked all my life with my mother and grandmother – of Hungarian decent – they are all bakers and cooks – and I’m a great waitress because I know food. I give good descriptions…so I got into the kitchen and after the panic I had an odd sense of calm come over me…it was as though I found my home…I actually get choked up talking about it…


Oh, I get it. I know I was meant to do this too, so I totally understand where you are coming from…

…I felt I was speaking a language I already knew…I don’t remember learning it…cooking was like a language that I just got…so I dropped out of school and went to culinary…my parents wanted me to finish my BFA. They weren’t happy. I started working in restaurants full time and then to La Varenne in Paris, which is really my only formal education…my Mom sent me checks secretly to help me out. You would think I was doing something subversive (laughs).


Did you initially focus on pastry or cooking?

Both but when I started working full time during college I was garde manger but after I graduated college and he came to me and asked me to be his pastry chef…girls always get stuck there…this was at a fancy hotel in Rochester, NY…I said, okay, I’ll do it for 6 months but if I want out after that you have to agree…I wanted to be one of the tough line guys. I had feminist anger in me!


So what happened at the 6-month point?

The boss came and asked me if I wanted out and I said, give me another 6 months (laughs). I still see him from time to time and he asks me if I want out! So often women were getting stuck but it’s where I belonged! I was a diamond setter…so I was well suited to pastry…I have the manual dexterity like a surgeon. My eyes can measure equal pieces without a ruler. I can even see spaces that way. I think I was genetically suited…but I cook as well. When you are married to chefs you end up being a sous chef – it’s your turn to make the soup! But I also give great coat check and accounting…my weakest area was sommelier…but when you are in this business it is good to know everything…


Let’s get into your pastry headspace…

…I was in NY a lot…this was the early days of the Food Network…and I always would let them know when I was in town and they would invite me to come do Sara’s show (Sara Moulton). I went on a lot and loved it. I loved it so much I would lie and tell them I was coming into NY for whatever but really I was making excuses to be there so they’d put me on her show! And her kitchen fit me! It’s 3-inche short!


Oh, that is so funny, I didn’t know that! I have a 6-foot baker’s bench in the Test Kitchen that is cut 3-inches shorter than standard for me (laughs).

I’m very comfortable on camera. I don’t have stage fright…Rick Tramonto and I divorced around the time I had been working with the Food Network for about 4 years and it is such a tumultuous time and you aren’t sure what’s going to happen next in terms of work or money…and then the Food Network offered me my own show! They were looking for an all dessert show…they already knew I was comfortable in front of the camera and I could teach and bake. Jacques Torres was too hard to understand and Francois Payard’s accent was too strong…and they wanted all-American and I fit the criteria…I had been freaking out…my kid was three years old and I was divorcing and then I’m offered a show…it was meant to be.

So it allowed me not to panic and we were friendly in the divorce…I didn’t have to be scared about money…the show allowed me to move forward and our relationship survived…


It’s so great when the universe somehow provides…

We taped the show for 3 or 4 years but it ran for probably 10! And I became this American baking icon…I love to bake and I love to teach; it was perfect for me. And it is a great way to teach. You have 4 cameras and you get to show what you want to show. I developed a fan base and they still show up…I shoved the money in a 529 and I like to say that the Food Network paid for my kid’s college (laughs). I actually made a T-shirt saying that…


You did?

Yes, and I sent thank you notes to Brooke Johnson and my producer Bob Tushman, and director Mark Dissan…the show really impacted my life…I try to remember to thank them regularly. It has allowed me to travel and meet all these heartfelt bakers…I teach in the Midwest…I have cooked for Presidents…and I continue to go to France every year to learn…whether cooking on a cruise or doing a stage at a hotel…



Let’s talk about your books.

My books are written for home bakers…but the fact that I have restaurants is great for the hardcore fans. They come to visit! But cookbooks are a way to connect with people who aren’t going to jump on a plane…I once asked Julia Child why she never had a restaurant – she said she was way too smart for that! (laughs) I get so many emails from people saying, “you were at my Thanksgiving table because I made your sweet potato purée”. This is an eternal life. Pass on your recipes and you will live eternally…


Tell us your Top 3 Tips to help home bakers have success.

1. I find home bakers have the most fear of piecrust…so get yourself a recipe you are comfortable with and make it again and again. Keep the fat really chilled and under mix it! If you can get yourself to do those 3 things, you will have success. this gift, they melt into tears…


Saying “undermix” sounds so funny, but it is so true!

You want to do that! So that the water in the fat can make a compartment of flakiness…chemistry and physics, which I didn’t pay attention to in school and it’s so interesting that my whole world relies on chemistry and physics…

2. You need decent equipment…sheet pans with weight to them…muffins tins with weight to them…cheap ones are flimsy and it makes it very hard to have success…I go to people’s houses and they want me to help them…and their cutting boards are warped and their knives are really dull… I buy boards and knives as gifts, so it’s there next time I help them prep. Even I would burn cookies with flimsy pans! That’s not a skill you are lacking. You are sabotaging yourself.

Number 3 is wear comfortable shoes!


What do you like?

I wear Vans.


Dansko clogs saved my back…So we will be featuring your Homemade Devil Dogs. Tell us about that recipe.

They are something my husband grew up eating…it’s an East Coast thing…he grew up with Drakes cakes…I made them for him for his birthday – they were his birthday cake! They are great because they are handheld and they pack well for lunches on the go. I like to bring them to 4th of July picnics. And folks like individual servings. I like that they are inter-generational and that marshmallow filling! This is not for snobs. Oh, and make sure you end up with an even number for the pairs since you are sandwiching them together.


How about the Blueberry Ginger Hand Pies? Any tips for those?

Feel free to add more ginger to come through more strongly. My husband is very into the ratio of icing to pie. He doesn’t like too much icing, but check with your family. You can vary it to your liking.


Gale, it has been such a pleasure speaking with you. You and your recipes have been inspirations for years. Anything else you would like to add?

When I travel I take my great grandmother’s rolling pin with me…she was from Budapest…it grounds me and helps me remember where I came from. It is a slender wooden pin; the TSA says it’s a weapon! I have it in my kitchen when I am home. It reminds me that I am a fourth generation baker…she and my Mom weren’t professionals or anything but they were very good. It helps me remember that I am taking this farther. My kids use it now…it is kind of emotional…


What was your grandmother’s name?



Well, she gave you a gift, just like you give the gift of perfect piecrust in your classes! Thank you for your time, Gale.

 My pleasure, Dédé. This was fun.




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