Based in the strength and wisdom of kith and kin, up-and-coming pastry chef Sally Jarrett whips up witty treats and comfort sweets at Restaurant Magnus
By Vesna Vuynovich Kovach
Around the Table
in Brava Magazine
Related recipe: Sally's Mom's New York Cheesecake
“You can put a steak in a 500 degree oven and it will be done twice as fast, but a cake will not bake faster,” says Sally Jarrett, pastry chef at downtown’s esteemed Restaurant Magnus.
That’s the simple answer to something that’s always perplexed me: why is it that, on cooking competitions like TV’s Top Chef, contestants get most flustered about dessert?
But Sally likes a challenge. As a culinary arts student at MATC, she found herself responsible for the dessert in a team cooking competition at the annual Wisconsin Restaurant Expo. “We won first place. [It] made me realize that desserts were going to be a significant part of my life from then on.”
Now, at just 22, Sally is responsible for making the dizzying array of sophisticated sweet treats always available at Magnus, including an extensive dessert menu that evolves with the seasons, plus a steady, sparkling cascade of specials.
VVK: What are some of your favorite creations?
SJ: Empanadas are a savory dish; I twisted it around and made caramel-apple empanadas with candied pecans and a spicy cider syrup. Chef Leo [Leonardo Guevara] helped me out a lot with finding a puff-pastry dough that would work with the way I envisioned it the dish. Some were too dry and hard to roll out, or hard to shape around the apples. It was challenging, but worth it.
There are so many things you can do with simple ideas, too. Like a cheesecake. Right now we have lemon blueberry, peanut butter with chocolate crust and pineapple rum. All different variations on my mother’s recipe.
VVK: Is she sort of your unofficial off-site collaborator?
SJ: We call each other all the time and share recipes. We’re always trying new things and bouncing ideas off each other. We’re best friends, especially now that I work at Magnus. She helps me with so many little details, I don’t even know.
The first time somebody ordered a personal wedding cake, I’d never made and iced a layer cake before! Mom talked me through it. I had the phone on my shoulder, and she told me how to run the spatula in hot water to make the icing smooth, how to to put the layers together with dowels.
VVK: Did she influence your career choice?
SJ: She was a stay-at-home mom, always cooking and baking, making jams and jellies. She got the kids involved – peeling vegetables, helping with cookies. Mom always had a huge garden. I remember peeling a lot of apples at the end of every summer. Later she got a job at a bakery and I waitressed there and did a little bit of prep cooking. My mother taught me to work really hard, be responsible, take action, but I didn’t think food would be my career.
I went to the UW-Madison for a year, then transferred to MATC, where I found the culinary arts program. It was so different from anything at the UW, and I’ve always been a hands-on learner. I discovered that I had a huge passion for food that I didn’t know about.
VVK: Who else has influenced you?
SJ: My boyfriend, Darren, whom I met in the culinary program and work with at Magnus. We bounce ideas off each other, and he’s a huge help in keeping me grounded. I think that having my significant other at work -- such a stressful environment -- makes it much easier to relate to each other. We know what each other goes through. I think that makes it easier to be more sympathetic and understanding towards challenges that we face.
VVK: What lessons have you learned in your work?
SJ: Simple is better. This Valentine’s weekend, when we were really, really busy, I made a cute little arty dessert, very intricate and complicated. It looked like sushi. I made a chocolate dough and rolled it out. I filled it with jasmine rice pudding and tropical fruit dyed purple with hibiscus. I served it with kiwi sauce, like the green wasabi that’s served with sushi. It didn’t sell. The other special that weekend was a warm chocolate cake with peanut butter ice cream. We sold a lot of that!
VVK: What’s your favorite thing about your job?
SJ: Chef Leo has given me so much freedom to experiment. He’ll order any product I need for the specials I want to do. And he’ll let me fail. My first night, I made a batch of sponge cakes. I didn’t know you have to take them right out of the pan, or they keep cooking. They shrank to half their size! He just said, “You see, you should ask more questions. Well, can you do it again?” I said, “Yes, Chef!” and made another batch that night.
Each month in her column “Around the Table,” freelance writer Vesna Vuynovich Kovach profiles women who are influential in Wisconsin foodways: cooks and bakers, farmers, teachers, authors, activists and more.