Jill Bates is certainly the darling of pastry chefs in Dallas today. Her cute but quirky demeanor endears and definitely lends itself to practicing her craft in one of the busier kitchens in Dallas today. As a pastry chef she has paid her dues and worked the ranks as any savory chef might.
How did you get into this business of pastries?
I grew up in a very different family. One side of my family was from England the other from Louisiana. My dad was the cook of the family and he taught me how to cut up a chicken when I was ten. Soon my grandparents moved from England and they would bake bread, Wellingtons and pastries. I became fascinated with that and informed my dad that I was going to be a chef. He wasn’t too excited.
Did you go to school or get on-the-job training as some do?
I went to North Texas then transferred to Texas Tech where I majored in Restaurant Management. Finally my dad was happy because I had my bachelors degree, but he asked what I would do with that. I announced I was going to culinary school and soon moved to San Francisco where I got my degree in Culinary Arts. I remember during Christmas making 5,000 pastries and frosting cakes. It drove me nuts.
Did you work while in school?
I was green as green can be, but worked in restaurants like 100 hours a week to make rent. One restaurant was called the Moa Room where I worked with this New Zealand chef named Jan Gardner who was my mentor and taught me so much about the kitchen. I still think about her today. She would say “Jilly darling, how are we going to make the pastry today?” She was awesome and really taught me how to bake.
Christopher Chung joined us at the restaurant and he was incredible. He taught me so much from grill to sauté to everything.
How did you end up back in Texas?
Moving back to Texas in 1998 I landed a job at the Mansion in the pastry department. They hired me as a “cook level one” in pastry which shocked me. I was pretty happy. I had the greatest boss ever, pastry chef James Wagner. He really helped develop me.
I learned how to build big cakes at the Mansion which was really fascinating. I mean really big cakes. Once we built this beautiful piano, something I had never done before. I concentrated on plated desserts and got really good at it.
From the Mansion you moved on to open Hotel ZaZa and work at Dragonfly with Stephan Pyles, how was that experience?
ZaZa was fast and furious and we really cranked out the hours. I remember one time Rachael Ray came in to film her $40 Dollars a Day show and they said I needed to be ready in 5 minutes. Of course I didn’t have any make up on that day, but you can still catch a glimpse of me in reruns.
We made a trip to New York to cook at the James Beard House which was a huge honor. I was there with Stephan and Jeff Moschetti. I remember it being crazy. The refrigerator malfunctioned and the kitchen caught fire just before the guests arrived and we had to salvage the food. It turned out very nice but I ended up doing a lot of straight shots of Tuaca afterwards.
After ZaZa you made another stop at the Mansion before venturing to Craft Dallas. How was it working with Colicchio?
Craft was a good experience. It focused me and brought me back to what was fresh, simple and good. I learned that you could serve a simple peach for dessert. If it’s a perfect peach, serve it. Why not?
Were you excited to get the call from Fearing to come work at the Ritz?
I was excited when I got that call from Dean. In the back of my mind I was hoping he would call. He told me I could design my own pastry kitchen – what a great opportunity that was. Usually the pastry chefs are relegated to some far corner that isn’t being used.
What is something on the menu we should try today?
We just put the Peach Short Stack on the menu. It is layers of oatmeal shortbread cookies, whipping cream, fresh peach frozen yogurt and caramelized Texas peaches topped with a fresh blueberry compote and granola.
It’s a beautiful dish, thank you for sitting with us today.Fearing’s 2121 McKinney Ave
Inside Ritz-Carlton Dallas (214) 922-4848