One of my last positions in Las Vegas kitchens was as a pastry cook at Michael Mina’s Stripsteak. I moved my way from garde manger (French fancy words for the cold station), to sides, and finally made it to the coveted pastry position.
I went to culinary school with my main hobby as baking and focused on gaining a position in pastry. Goodness, I sure did learn a lot when I finally made it there. There, I trained under the amazing Chef Lincoln Carson, learned the pastry ropes from some pretty badass women, and realized that I could execute a recipe but I’d never be able to temper chocolate without it blooming (that’s when chocolate develops a certain whitish color since the temperature of properly melting it was off). I’ve ruined countless batches of fiddle faddle (our caramel popcorn topped with dark chocolate and Maldon salt) by incorrectly tempering chocolate. There’s a precise science that pastry and baking has versus savory cooking that I’ll never be able to fully understand.
Jane Sumita and Melissa Carroll are two ridiculously talented women that have mastered the science of baking and pastry. I met Jane first, while working at Central Standard at South Congress Hotel. I was immediately drawn to her, plus she gave me snacks on my first day of training, which always wins my heart. Give me all the snacks and you’re immediately my new best friend.
Hailing from Indonesia, Jane’s journey to Austin and into pastry has been a long time coming. By her aunt’s suggestion, she and her brother applied for their green cards in 1999 and didn’t think about it until ten years late in 2009, when they received a letter indicating that they’d been approved. She then spent time in two months in Sydney, Australia, learning English while staying with her cousin. After processing her papers, she found herself in Seattle, earning her CNA and began a career in the medical field, followed by the pursuit being an RN. Four years of working as a certified nursing assistant along with going to school to become an RN wore her down and she realized that she’d rather pursue something else. This led to her move to Houston in 2012 as she contemplated what she should do besides nursing.
Baking and pastry was always an interest since high school and after much research, Jane moved to Austin to attend Le Cordon Bleu’s pastry program. With a brief stint at Better Bites Bakery under her belt, she became one of the opening team at the South Congress Hotel, which is where she met her partner in crime, Melissa.
“I was always drawn to more creative fields”, Melissa says as she emphasizes this as her focus right after high school, specifically on fine arts and graphic design. She attended community college in St. Louis until she decided to pursue a career in the culinary field. She left the mid-west to attend the International Culinary Center, formerly the French Culinary Institute in Campbell, California. After the intensive six month pastry program, Carroll moved back to St. Louis and accepted the pastry chef position at local London Tea Room. In the midst of her pastry chef duties, she went back to community college to finish her degree in fine arts. A change was needed and she made her way to Austin in the summer of 2015. Melissa splits her time between South Congress Hotel and Dolce Neve. The ability to be creative in both of her jobs has helped her bring more ideas to Lemongrass & Thyme. After Jane approached Melissa with the idea of starting a blog earlier this year, the two launched Lemongrass & Thyme in March, with the focus of bringing their diverse backgrounds to their project.
Though Jane has since moved back to Indonesia to be at the helm of a new hotel as head pastry chef, she and Melissa still make time for Lemongrass & Thyme between their busy schedules. Before her move home, Jane invited me into her kitchen to help her and Melissa with an idea for the her new venture. I can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon for these two and especially for Jane to visit again, so we can catch up over more sweet news.