Danica Pollard began her culinary career right out of high school as an ice cream cake decorator at a Kansas City area Baskin-Robbins. She worked as a baker for a grocery store and then headed to New York to attend the Natural Gourmet Institute.
She demonstrated an aptitude for sugary concoctions, and an instructor asked whether she’d ever considered doing a pastry internship. Pollard found one at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s 66 and loved it.
“It felt right, and it still does,” Pollard says.
She has lived on both coasts but came to realize she wanted to spend some time back home. She moved back in 2007 and has been dreaming up desserts at Lidia’s ever since.
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“This is my hometown,” Pollard says. “I see myself here for a while. Traveling is great, too, but this is not a bad place to have as your home base.”
Pollard was selected as the People’s Choice for best new pastry chef in the central United States by Food and Wine magazine in February 2012.
What’s off your palette?
I’m a vegetarian, so that takes quite a few things off the plate. I’ve been a vegetarian for about 20 years.
What was that like in culinary school?
It actually was great. I went to a very vegetarian-friendly culinary school in Manhattan. That’s actually why I selected that school. Obviously it made the transition to do pastries much easier for me, because meat is not generally used in pastry production.
What’s your favorite cheap lunch?
A grilled cheese sandwich made with extra sharp cheddar.
What’s the best thing you ate this week?
I had one of the best breakfasts at Billy Gail’s Cafe in Branson. I was there over the weekend, and that was really good. I had cheesy hash browns and scrambled eggs and a biscuit, and they were all excellent.
What’s your favorite splurge?
I guess I’ll go with a good local black walnut.
What’s your go-to ingredient?
Mascarpone. I use it for so many things. It has a lot of not only flavor-enhancing abilities but texture. It works great in some things that you wouldn’t even guess. You put a little in, and it can really round off the edges and kind of stabilize the dairy ingredients.
What’s your go-to drink after a long day?
I really like scotch on the rocks.
What’s your dream trip?
I definitely want to go to Europe. There are so many places I want to go. The dream trip is long, but it definitely entails going around northern Europe and eastern Europe especially.
How would you describe your culinary style in five words or less?
Bold flavors, balanced ingredients, texture.
Which celeb would you like to cook for?
Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead. It’d be a dream. I’d make sticky toffee pudding. It’s an English dessert. It’s got dates in it, and it has a warm, brown sugar sauce on it. It’s a steamed cake. It’s really wonderful. It’s nice for the fall.
Do you have a culinary mentor?
Jessica Isaacs. She was the pastry chef at Nobu when I worked there, and now she has her own company called Cocoa Bakery in New Jersey. She was definitely the person who spent the most time with me, taught me the most and left the biggest impression on me career-wise.
What’s your kitchen pet peeve?
So many to choose from — probably when people help themselves to our prepared products as if it were their own personal snack tray. But that’s everywhere. Dessert is like that.
What’s your go-to kitchen gadget?
An immersion blender. Couldn’t live without it.
Do you have a favorite cookbook?
It’s called “The Last Course” by Claudia Fleming.
What’s something that you love to make?
Anything frozen. Any frozen dessert is my favorite thing to make — ice cream, sorbet, sherbet. All of those things make me very happy.
What’s something that you hate to make?
Anything with a ridiculous number of steps. Oftentimes, cakes would fall into that category — overly complicated processes and procedures.
What’s your favorite condiment?
I honestly am a big fan of Jalapeno Heinz. It’s so good. It’s just ketchup with jalapenos in it.
What’s your favorite fast-food meal?
Probably a cheese quesadilla at Taco Bell.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Potato chips. Really good potato chips. I’m a sucker for those dill pickle potato chips specifically.
Do you think there’s a culinary trend that needs to end?
Reality TV cooking shows.
What’s a culinary trend you wish would catch on in Kansas City?
I’ve thought about that recently. I’d say more micro-restaurants, where there’s one chef, and he’s the person cooking for everyone in the restaurant. I would love to see more of that happen here.
Would you ever consider doing something like that?
Do you have a favorite barbecue place in Kansas City?
Yeah, because they make really good vegetarian food. It’s the one in Westport. Char Bar. They make an amazing barbecue smoked jackfruit sandwich, which for a vegetarian is pretty much where it’s at.
What’s your favorite food city in the U.S. aside from Kansas City?
New York. I get a really good bagel — an everything bagel with cream cheese, fresh tomato and a little salt.