Kelly Lovett, 35, is the executive pastry chef for RO Hospitality, overseeing the pastry programs at Table & Main and Osteria Mattone , as well as the restaurant group’s third concept, Coalition Food and Beverage, slated to open this spring.
Lovett began her culinary career at age 19, but the Georgia native's desire to cook started long before then. She grew up in a French-Italian family that holds a deep love for food. Her French grandmother always had something bubbling on the stove and Lovett wanted to stir everything that she was cooking. "She never let me, but the minute she left the room, I did," Lovett recalled.
Then there was her grandfather, who had the TV tuned to cooking shows long before the days of Food Network. "We watched Julia Child (although my grandfather couldn't stand her voice), Jacques Pépin and Martin Yan, to name a few," she said.
Lovett started in fast-food kitchens before working her way through chain restaurants. In 2005, she decided that culinary school was the path for her. A Le Cordon Bleu graduate, Lovett secured her first pastry position in 2006 (while still in culinary school) at Atlanta icon Bacchanalia where she honed her baking skills. Later, she was a part of Seven Lamps’ opening team and served as pastry chef for Southern Proper Hospitality before joining RO Hospitality last year.
We caught up with Lovett to learn about her journey from fast food to fine dining and how her mind cooks up sweets to make you swoon.
What was your first restaurant job?
Cracker Barrel. I think that job was important for my development. I learned how to multi-task fairly quickly and the importance of a clean station.
Where did you get started as a pastry chef?
My pastry career got started at Bacchanalia under Carla Tomasko. I got to see baskets of fresh produce from their farm being carried in in the morning and go on the menu that night. It taught me the importance of seasonality with simplicity and finesse.
What’s your baking philosophy?
I try to create dishes that you would want to eat every day—ones that remind you of something from your childhood or strike a pleasant memory. I think food can be playful and fun while still respecting the integrity of the product. Just make good food, simply.
What key element makes for an outstanding dessert?
Texture. Every dessert should offer a balanced contrast: creamy, crunchy, weight of elements.
How do you come up with dessert ideas?
I keep a folder of recipes that I have done in the past and sometimes I flip through it just to get ideas of things I've done before or spark new inspiration. I also have a couple solid books at the house that always put me in a good direction.
How often do you update the dessert menu at Table & Main and Osteria Mattone?
I try to do both of them at least four times a year, which works out perfectly for me, because I normally get antsy around that time anyways.
What are your favorite desserts currently on RO Hospitality restaurant menus?
At Table & Main, it would have to be the brown butter cake with apple butter, almond streusel, fresh apples and fall spice ice cream. It's a super light and clean dessert. At Osteria Mattone, it's the Torta dell' Opera. It's a sophisticated version of what people would expect at an Italian restaurant.
What can diners expect from desserts Coalition Food and Beverage?
We are going to keep things a little old school there. The dessert menu will consist of modern twists on American classics, like a banana split and a chocolate cream pie with piled-high whipped cream.
What’s a trend in the dessert world that you’re loving?
I feel that there has been a movement over the past several years of reverting back to homey, comfort desserts: slices of pie, classic combinations, nostalgia. I think it all, at some point, goes back to that.
How about one that’s overplayed and you wish would go away?
Cupcakes. Although I believe they are on their way out.
What inspires you in the kitchen?
People who share the love of food. It's so important. And it's very noticeable when it’s missing. Finding someone that you can really talk food with is so exhilarating and motivating.
If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A warm chocolate chip cookie. All day, every day.
What's your biggest pet peeve in the kitchen?
Cleanliness. If someone’s station is dirty and unorganized, it makes me nuts. Clean station, clear mind.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about pastry chefs? Two things come to mind. One, that we should all weigh 300 pounds. I'm sorry, I don't eat whole pies at work every day. Two, that our jobs are easy, or easier than savory chefs. There's so much planning and time that goes into creating and developing desserts.
Any advice for home cooks looking to elevate their baking game?
Don't follow a recipe. Some of the best things I've done have been from mistakes.