While studying for her undergrad degree in political science, Emma Scheer got into a heated argument with a professor over anti-feminist remarks. "I wound up storming out, went home and started baking," Scheer says. "I baked all weekend, and at the end I realized I was using it to make myself feel better. That day I researched culinary schools and I was there within five weeks."
She enrolled in the patisserie and baking culinary arts program at Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis. "I was that super-nerdy kid that got home from school and kept reading books," she explains. "I kept pushing and trying to learn everything there was."
Despite her eagerness, after graduation she found herself in the same position as many other recent grads in her field: underemployed.
"It's hard to walk in and show them a degree, because everybody wants you to already have experience with pastry, but it's easy to walk in and be a line cook. My first three or four jobs out of culinary school were 90-percent line cooking and just a little bit of baking."
In 2013, Scheer found a pastry chef position at Humble Wine Bar, where she was able to feature items like the Chocolate Tower, a desert she says she'll never live down. "I still have people who ask me about it," she chuckles, adding that the dessert is a simple layered chocolate mousse cake with butterscotch, warm caramelized bananas, and crunchy peanut butter ice cream.
Soon she took on dessert production for Humble owner Dan Deagan's other nearby venture, Deagan's Kitchen. "I finally convinced them to let me work out of one location, but then I started absorbing other responsibilities," she says. After working almost 90-hour weeks as a stand-in sous chef, Scheer left Lakewood for what she hoped would be greener pastures at Press Wine Bar.
Owner John Owens had ambitious plans for that Tremont business, which included building a bakery and sandwich shop, but it never panned out. In the meantime, Scheer made desserts for Press, Market, South Side, and Wine Bar in Rocky River.
Now Scheer works as pastry chef at the Union Club (1211 Euclid Ave., 216-621-4230, theunionclub.org), a members-only operation established in 1872 that offers lunch, dinner and catering for special events.
"I tell people that I work for the illuminati, because it's easier to explain," she jokes about her current employer.
As head of the baking program, she's tasked with desserts, bread and breakfast pastries for the entire facility. With three deck ovens, Scheer is expanding her skill set to include catering for special events and weddings. Recently she has participated in the Dinner in the Dark series, concocting a Meyer lemon semifredo with amaretto cream, ginger spice cake, candied tri-citrus peel, white chocolate curls, toasted almonds and handmade mini marshmallows.
"I hate to say that I have one thing I do really well," she notes. "The thing I'm good at is taking familiar flavors and presenting them in unfamiliar ways." As an example she points to a funnel cake sundae with caramel corn ice cream and candied apple peel. If you're not a member of the Union Club, Scheer's deserts can be found at the newly opened Tavern of Independence (5530 Brecksville Rd., 216-264-4344, tavernofindy.com).
Looking ahead, Scheer would like to explore opening a place of her own within the next five years. "I don't want to move around to a lot of different restaurants; I'm past that point in my career," she says. Until then, she'll continue to take on challenges as they come.