Lisa White is executive pastry chef at Domenica, where she crafts signature desserts with a blend of history and playfulness. White spoke with Gambit about her current holiday project, preserving Louisiana heritage recipes and her new role running (alongside Restaurant August pastry chef Kelly Fields) the forthcoming Willa Jean Bakery.
What's the gingerbread project you've been working on?
White: I was working with Kieu [Tran], who was one of the past Chefs Move recipients [a scholarship program designed to diversify kitchen leadership] and with my pastry team at Domenica. We built a gingerbread replica of the [Roosevelt] hotel with Domenica inside of it and the Christmas lobby. We just dropped it off today over at NOLA Christmas Fest, which is at the [Ernest N. Morial] Convention Center.
It took three days of Kieu and myself working on it all day long, and then we had everyone else in and out of it — probably 100 hours. This is the first year I've done it, and the first project after Kieu graduated [from Chefs Move] and started her own business. It's so cool that she was teaching me things and the evolution of our relationship was really nice. She does really amazing work. The Mr. Bingle she made out of gum paste — we wanted to do the Krewe of Jingle parade going by the hotel — it was spot on. She also made the clock lady that's inside the lobby of the Roosevelt, and it's inside the gingerbread Roosevelt Hotel, too.
What's happening with Willa Jean Bakery?
W: We are super excited about Willa Jean. It's an evolution of some ideas and goals that Kelly and I have had over the years for ourselves, and somehow they just came together as one for both of us. The timing came out right for us to charge forward and do it together. There's definitely going to be a lot of bread and pastries, but we're still working on the menu, so there's nothing that's totally lined out right now. We're looking at everything and trying to put together something that gets us excited. The timeline is largely dependent on other things, but it's coming in 2015.
What are your influences in shaping dessert menus?
W: I keep diving into historical foods that were here in New Orleans that aren't anymore. ... I would love to bring back some traditional things so I can keep them going.
I can see something like huckabucks being popular at [Pizza Domenica] during the summer, because they're just such an easy, New Orleans-style thing. I love that aspect of treasuring things that are so New Orleans centric, and I love the thought of bringing something back, or something that's starting to disappear a little, helping to bring it back to people's memories.
There are some Cajun pastries that people have been showing me, and I've been trying to figure those out so they don't disappear. I also want to bring them out so other people can see some of the things that are hidden in the cracks and corners of Louisiana. There's just so much.