For This Pastry Team, Working Smart Means Cross Training with Donuts

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The 9 a.m. donut handoff! Ella GM Sandra Pepin receives the goodies from MGFD’s pastry chef MJ Garcia.

Every morning Pastry Chef MJ Garcia gets into Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink around 5:45 a.m. and takes survey of her stock.  Then it’s time to cross train.

“If I ran a special that had pastry cream the day before, I’ll use it for a donut at Ella,” she explains.  “The other day we did butterscotch pudding here, so that became the filling for a chocolate glazed there.”

Restaurants like Michael’s flagship with its vast menu and myriad meal periods require a lot of rotation of product. MJ’s cross training routine makes for a fit operation, one with limited waste not at the expense of creativity. It’s a canvas that offers an outlet for new ideas to develop with discipline and structure because they are built on making something special from what’s around. “If you think about it from the culinary side, donuts are like the soup,” she points out.

Since our light and airy café first opened in late spring last year, the “Ella Daily Donut” (#elladailydonut on Instagram) has become a fixture in the display case, coveted for its surprising array of flavors and formats.  It was around the time MJ rejoined The Genuine Hospitality Group after a four year hiatus from Miami in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with husband (and now Cypress Tavern Chef de Cuisine) Max Makowski.  Her first placement was at ella, where she learned a tremendous deal about desserts in a retail environment, not to mention the benefit of direct customer feedback at the counter.

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Rainbow of Flavors: Here, lemon and coconut ensconced on their perch in the morning light.

“I noticed things… saw the pastries and how they were behaving.  Fresh fruit like strawberries will look fantastic in the morning but they wilt and go pale by the evening,” she recalls observing.  “You have to think how many hours a particular donut is going to stand up.  At 7 p.m. closing it has to look as good at as it did at opening. So you have boundaries.”

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Sometimes the donuts would be too big or too little.  MJ made note of all these things at ella, and translated them to improvements on that offering, not to mention best practices for her department at large at Michael’s Genuine.

“You have to keep a lot of factors in mind while you do these seemingly simple things,” she continues. “Yeasted donuts are more irregular in the way the dough behaves and there is more room for error.  It can overproof which creates big air pockets which can explode in the frier!  You also have to be careful not to overwork the dough which will develop gluten and produce a tough, dense result.”

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Lemon Meringue donut in all her oozy glory; the perfect ratio of filling to fried dough dusted in sugar and laden with sticky, caramelized meringue topping.

The preparation of the yeasted dough is a one day process with bulk cold fermentation in large tubs to develop flavor, refrigerating overnight. Then she rolls it out and punches it, and waits an hour before frying. But as important as the foundation may be, the ultimate test is in the merchandising… read: decoration.

“Decoration is everything,” MJ agrees.  “We eat with our eyes, so when building the donut we play with color, texture and form, from punched or filled, to toppings like chocolate crunch balls and Oreo cookie crumbles.  If I made lemon lavender syrup and I have lemon juice, I’ll make a Lemon glaze and add coconut flakes. People love cookies and cream, and chocolate always makes sense on weekends!”

MJ says her team, helmed by pastry assistants Alexandra Sarria (lead) and Chelsea Hillier, “harass the Instagram” for feedback from customers, as well as those who post their own photos of the donuts. This feedback mechanism is invaluable, since they aren’t at the café to interact when people are eating them.

“Cypress sometimes gets leftovers, so my husband will let me know how they are and what his team thinks. It’s hard sometimes, so we take what we can.  Of course there’s the morning crew at Genuine. Those guys are a great source of feedback, especially when you catch them sneaking the scraps!”

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