This post is brought to you in partnership with FS Food Group. All opinions are our own.
Mama Ricotta’s tiramisu. The Tres Leche cake at Paco’s Tacos. The infamous banana pudding from Midwood Smokehouse.
What do these mouthwatering desserts have in common? The new Executive Pastry Chef at FS Food Group, Kelly Tamm, is behind them all.
We spoke with Chef Kelly to learn more about what brought her to Charlotte, her baking experience, her role at the Charlotte restaurants that make up FS Food Group, and the changes (and desserts) she’s excited to be making in 2018.
From Chicago to Charlotte
After 10 years of working in a variety of notable bakeries, restaurants and more in Chicago, Chef Kelly moved to Charlotte in October 2017.
“In Chicago, I started in a German bakery,” she said in our interview. “I began as a morning baker. I got there at 3 a.m. every morning. I learned from an older man who was retiring and had worked in a bakery for 35 years. He taught me a lot.”
After that, Chef Kelly moved on to work as a Pastry Cook for Wolfgang Puck Catering. “I learned a lot there about production volume,” she said. “We’d be preparing food for parties of 5,000 people. It was intense.”
Before she left Chicago, Chef Kelly worked as a Pastry Chef for Rick Bayless’ Baja inspired, wood-fire only restaurant and taqueria. “That was cool,” she said. “Not just because I got to use my skills to make a great product, but because I had this next level experience of Mexican ingredient influence that was such a fun challenge.”
But after 10 years in Chicago, it was time for Chef Kelly to find a new audience. While Chicago is a huge food city, she said it’s getting to the point where it’s almost over-saturated, and even some of the city’s best restaurants are starting to close down. “And it’s not because they’re not good, but because there’s too many restaurants open at once,” she explained.
Chef Kelly decided it was time for something new (and time for some better weather), so she made the move to Charlotte to find herself a new career path down South.
Just a month after moving to Charlotte, she started in her role as Executive Pastry Chef for FS Food Group on Nov. 1.
Her wide range of experience in the pastry world, from catering to bakeries to restaurants, encouraged Chef Kelly to pursue her role at FS Food Group (which encompasses Midwood Smokehouse, Mama Ricotta’s, Paco’s Tacos and Tequila, Yafo Kitchen and Plate Perfect Catering).
“I’m excited, because I’m still in ‘restaurant land,’ which for me is where I thrive. It’s a different place than a bakery, ” she said. “But because of the types of restaurants that FS Food Group includes, I’m able to draw that bakery product and knowledge — but execute them in a restaurant setting. It’s the best of both worlds for me.”
She’s also excited for the opportunity to create her own path in the new role.
“I’m able to start from scratch on certain things, or build on what already exists if it doesn’t need to be changed,” she said. “There’s kind of this balance where I’m able to make decisions, but there are also things that are already in place and work well. I get to balance tradition and innovation, which is exciting.”
At each of FS Food Group’s restaurants — Midwood Smokehouse, Mama Ricotta’s, Paco’s Tacos and Tequila, Yafo Kitchen and Plate Perfect Catering — there are already “classic” desserts in place.
Chef Kelly wants people to know that they don’t have to worry about those tried-and-true sweets going anywhere anytime soon.
“We’re not getting rid of anything that exists and works already. We don’t want to alienate anybody,” she said. “But we do still want to keep things new and exciting. We want to start a conversation about dessert that we haven’t necessarily had at our restaurants before. So, we’re finding this balance between tradition and updating things creatively.”
She used Midwood Smokehouse as a prime example of striking this balance between tradition and innovation.
“They’ve got their banana pudding, their pecan cobbler — the classics — and they’re going to keep going with that,” she said. “But now, we’re adding a cake to the menu as well. We’ll do sheet cakes, changing the flavor every few months to keep it seasonal. Then customers will be able to order this big piece of cake for dessert, and we’ll keep things new and exciting by updating the flavor pretty regularly. That makes sense for that concept.”
She emphasized their focus on using local and seasonal ingredients as often as possible— not just for FS Food Group’s dessert menus, but for all menus across the board, at all restaurants.
That led us to discuss Mama Ricotta’s, which has the most extensive dessert menu of all the FS Food Group restaurants. “We don’t want to get rid of anything here,” Chef Kelly explained. “Maybe just give things a little facelift to modernize them, and add a little seasonality to keep things fresh and interesting.”
Her top dessert recommendation
We had to ask Chef Kelly what her favorite dessert is, from all of FS Food Group’s different restaurants. She had to think about it for a minute — it was tough to choose.
“I definitely taste all of the desserts all the time,” she laughed. “But I’ve got to say, the tiramisu at Mama’s is so good. It’s this huge, honkin’ piece, and it’s really good.”
That said, Chef Kelly and her team aren’t just focused on the desserts at any one place. They’re working on making the sweets at every FS Food Group concept as incredible as possible. “Every restaurant is going to be touched on,” she said. “We’re not just focused on dessert at Mama’s or Plate Perfect. We’re thinking about everything. There are so many options, and so much opportunity. It’s really exciting.”
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