Lola and Lolita restaurants have been without an executive pastry chef since Cory Barrett moved on to new opportunities a few months back. That will change September 1, when Summer Genetti starts in that role. Genetti is moving to Cleveland from Cincinnati, where she has worked in many of that city's best restaurants, including Chalk Food + Wine, Honey, and The Palace at the Cincinnatian Hotel.
Genetti's unconventional ascent to sweet success propelled her from a heavily tattooed body piercer to Gayot's "Top Five Rising Chefs
" in the U.S. in 2010. We caught up with her as she was packing for her move to Cleveland.
How did this opportunity arise?
I did some stages [chef-speak for internships] with Michael Laiskonis, Le Bernadin's former pastry chef. He sent me an e-mail saying that Lola was looking for a pastry chef and did I want him to put my name in the hat. I was shocked when Derek [Clayton, Lola's corporate chef] e-mailed me to try out. Never in a million years did I think I would get the job. I just figured it would be good experience to try out and that I'd finally get a chance to eat at Lola.
Tell me about the interview.
First, I dined at Lola and Lolita, because I like to make sure that my dishes complement the repertoire. On July 3, I prepared 13 dishes for the chefs. I would drop a round, explain the dish, and go get the next one. At the time, I didn't even realize that I had made 13 dishes. They said, "Oh my god, you're killing us!" They offered me the job immediately.
So I read that you are self-taught. Is that true?
I don't believe that anybody is self-taught. I prefer to say self-guided. I voraciously read cookbooks as a kid. Instead of going out and partying in my 20s, I was home reading A Neoclassic View of Plated Desserts at a time when crème brulée was still exotic. I started baking for a coffee shop down the street, then started working in kitchens in Cincinnati. I owe my career to wanting to do it and being in the right place at the right time.
You half-jokingly say that there are only three pastry chefs in Cincy.
Pastry chefs are a luxury item, and most places can't afford them. There is such a thin line between profit and loss that to take on additional labor for desserts is difficult. I realize why people resort to boxed desserts. I'm really happy that Michael Symon doesn't and that he thinks every part of the meal is just as important as every other part.
Are diners ordering fewer desserts these days?
I don't think people are ordering less dessert. A server at Lola said that about 90 percent of the tables order at least one dessert. Part of getting people excited about ordering dessert is knowing that there's a person there actually making things fresh — that it's not coming from a box or another bakery.
Does your personal style of baking mesh with that of Symon's at Lola and Lolita?
I like to think that I'm highly adaptable. I maintain my own sensibilities but emulate the style of food that's going out at whatever restaurant I work at. I have done everything from simple and homespun to the more esoteric. Lolita will afford itself to a more relaxed menu, where at Lola you want something a little more sophisticated.
What can we expect to see soon on the menus at Lola and Lolita?
I have been given free rein over the dessert menus. Lola's is still in the works, but at Lolita, you will probably see a banana pudding in a jar with homemade vanilla wafers, a rum-and-Coke float with black rum-based ice cream and chewy chocolate-ginger cookies, and chocolate caramel-based pôt de crème with salted caramel sauce, toffee popcorn, and Chantilly whipped cream.
Early thoughts on your new hometown?
I really had no expectations. Cleveland is much more an East Coast-style city, and Cincinnati is more Midwestern. Both have incredible dining scenes, I have now discovered. It makes me really happy that people are still out downtown at midnight on a Monday night, eating and having a good time.