By Carly DeFilippo
As the executive pastry chef at Bobby’s Flay’s New York City restaurant, Gato, as well as his Bahamas and Las Vegas locations of Mesa Grill, ICE Pastry & Baking Arts alum Clarisa Martino knows what it’s like to have every eye on her. In her 11 years in Chef Flay’s kitchens—her first position was her ICE externship at Mesa Grill—Clarisa has more than earned her stripes, gaining such accolades as a 2013 “Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America” award from Dessert Professional magazine. We checked in with Clarisa to learn what inspires her signature desserts and what it’s really like to work for a celebrity chef.
What is it like working for a celebrity chef?
Working for Bobby has been such a great experience overall. He’s a person, even though he’s a celebrity chef. He has always been extremely approachable and easy to talk to. What’s more, working for him has provided me with incredible opportunities to travel—for example, opening the Mesa Grill location at Atlantis in the Bahamas or overseeing pastry production at the Mesa Grill in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. He has also taken me and other members of the team to Food & Wine festivals, which offers opportunities to meet other chefs, network, etc. These elements make my job very unique; they’re things that not many pastry chefs are able to do.
Are there any challenges of working with a chef who has such a specific image and brand?
The job definitely has its challenges. I work service three nights a week at Gato while simultaneously managing our off-site teams, so I’m not always on location to oversee everything. I really have to trust my team at every restaurant to maintain the quality standards that Bobby is known for.
As for menu changes, when you work for someone and it’s his restaurant, it often comes down to what he likes (flavors, ingredients, styles of plating, etc.), and Bobby likes really classic American desserts. He always says, “Give me a real dessert!” because he doesn’t want foams and other unnecessary, modernist flourishes. That said, I do like to challenge him and put a playful twist on my recipes. We did an apple pie sundae at Mesa Grill, and I knew he would like the traditional flavors, but recreating those flavors in a sundae was something he might not go for. He ended up loving it, but he needed some convincing.
How would you describe your personal culinary voice?
Some people like plating really intricate, technical desserts. I like things to be more rustic, to be really tasty and have a lot of flavor. If the dessert title reads “strawberry,” the flavor should really pop as strawberry. In my management style, I work hard and challenge myself, but I also like to joke around and have a bubbly personality in the kitchen. I hope that comes through in my desserts. I don’t take things too seriously, but I like them to be done well, executed properly and have good flavor.
What career advice would you give current ICE students?
Stay determined and don’t give up. It can get really tough when you are working every holiday, every birthday, every night and every weekend. You miss a lot outside of work, but if this is something you really want, stick to it and don’t give up.
Additionally, get diverse experience, but be choosy with the chefs you work for. I was very lucky to be mentored early on by great chefs and to be able to evolve my career while working for the same chef. But whether you stay or change kitchens, pursue opportunities at places where you want to work—where you admire the chefs and know how much you can learn.
Want to follow in Clarisa’s footsteps? Click here to learn more about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.