Major: Baking & Pastry Arts
Hometown: Shawnee, KS
Baking from the Heart
Kansas native Alison Reed grew up in the nation’s heartland, and it was clear early on that baking was close to her heart. “Every holiday was a big celebration,” says Alison. “My mom and I would make a themed cake and my grandma would make something from scratch. We all loved her chicken and noodles. Grandma would roll out the dough on the kitchen table then hang the noodles to dry. I would always walk by and grab some to eat.”
Alison enjoyed being in the kitchen but never thought of it as a career. “I went to Kansas State to study fashion marketing but left after one semester,” she recalls. “I was watching the Food Network a lot in those days and thought ‘I could do that.’”
Returning home, Alison enrolled in some cooking classes at the local community college to get her feet wet. “I started doing some research into cooking schools but most only offered certificates. I wanted a degree,” she says. “I looked into The Culinary Institute of America and arranged a visit to the campus. I was impressed with the school and thought the program was a good fit for me.”
Indeed it was. “The CIA was an amazing experience, especially meeting the chef-instructors from all over the world and working in the Apple Pie Bakery Café,” she says. “Probably my greatest experience was my externship at Farallon in San Francisco with Pastry Chef Emily Luchetti. She was such an inspiration and has since become a mentor. I have all of Emily’s books, my favorite of which is Passion for Desserts.”
A passion for desserts is certainly something to which Alison can relate. “One of the things I enjoyed most at Farallon was plating desserts in the dining room. The patrons watched us prepare the dessert and we got to see them eat it. That’s the most gratifying part of the job. I like to see people’s reactions and smiles.”
After graduation, she explored positions in both Boston and Washington, DC. The latter won out with Alison landing at the Indian fusion restaurant Indebleu before moving on to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for a two-year stint. Ready to expand her repertoire, Alison became the pastry chef at Café Saint-Ex, where she worked for five years. Then, this past January, she was hired as pastry chef at Ripple, the 120-seat modern American restaurant in the Cleveland Park section of the city.
Ripple’s focus is on fine dining, which gives Alison the opportunity to create a variety of sophisticated desserts. In March, Ripple’s owner expanded by opening a gourmet market adjacent to the restaurant called Sugar Magnolia, which serves salads, sandwiches, and pâtés as well as baked goods like homemade granola, blondies, brownies, cookies, and the increasingly popular ice cream sandwiches. “I really get to play with fun combinations like chocolate chip cookie with vanilla malt ice cream, chocolate cookie with coffee coconut ice cream, peanut butter cookie with Valrhona chocolate ice cream, waffle cookie with maple bacon ice cream, and oat streusel cookie with blueberry ice cream,” Alison says. “We’re really committed to obtaining local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients from the surrounding area, a good portion of which comes from diary farms in central Pennsylvania and fruits and vegetable from nearby Virginia.”
Alison looks back fondly on the CIA and uses lessons learned in the kitchens and classrooms on a daily basis. “One of the greatest lessons was how to work with a variety of personalities and ages from different backgrounds in a fast-paced environment,” she explains. “It’s like real life work experience. I was a group leader and it wasn’t always easy; I wasn’t always well-liked. For most of my career I worked alone, but I now have a staff and that experience I gained at the CIA is something I use every day.”
On top of that valuable experience, Alison has also benefited from the CIA’s stellar reputation in the industry. “I feel like having the CIA on your résumé really makes a difference. People are impressed when you tell them you went there. I made the best friends that I’m still in contact with from all over the place and from all different walks of life. As a CIA graduate, if you stick with it, you can live out your dreams.”
Alison is busy living out her dreams and feels passionately about giving back. She volunteers for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance’s annual Women Chefs Turn up the Heat event, Share Our Strength Taste of the Nation, The Heart of America Foundation, The National Breast Cancer Foundation, and the DC Farm to School Network. She has also been nominated for a 2012 Rammy, a DC area restaurant award, for outstanding pastry chef and will create desserts for the James Beard Foundation Best of DC dinner.
It’s a good thing Alison decided to follow her heart—it led her to an amazing career doing what she loves.