Pastry chef struggles to eat right

April 25th, 2017  |  Published in NYSD2D 2017, Uncategorized

Tyler Atwell smooths out the chocolate he is tempering before cutting it and letting it harden. Credit: Lisa Kocay.

Tyler Atwell smooths out the chocolate he is tempering before cutting it and letting it harden. Photo: Lisa Kocay. 













By Lisa Kocay

Tyler Atwell’s white chef coat is surprisingly clean considering the amount of chocolate he works with. He vigorously whisks a bowl of melted chocolate, his dark-brown spiked hair and tall, stocky frame making him stand out among the other chefs. He grabs a handful of baking chocolate from a large plastic tin, adds some of it to the mixture and eats a few pieces. He’s tempering it, a technique for creating decorative and dipped chocolates that requires precise heating and cooling to make the chocolate smooth, glossy and ready to snap when broken.

Atwell, who has a degree in aviation flight science, likes to work with chocolate because it’s technical and involves science. He uses about 40 pounds of chocolate a week at Lafayette Grand Café and Bakery, the French restaurant in NoHo where the 38-year-old is the executive pastry chef.

“I like variation,” he says. “I like to do different things. I don’t like the monotony of certain tasks, so I think that’s the benefit of getting to a point in your career where you don’t necessarily have to do the same thing every single day. But there are things like working with chocolate that I do love. I could do that pretty much every day and be happy.”

Atwell graduated from Western Michigan University in 2002 but didn’t go into aviation flight science because the industry wasn’t doing well and there were fewer jobs available post-September 11, he says. He moved to New York City and discovered a passion for baking, which until then had meant only helping his mother bake holiday cookies. In 2005 he graduated from the French Culinary Institute, now the International Culinary Center.

“People see them [aviation flight science and pastry baking] as a very far, different field from one another, and there definitely are a lot of aspects that are very different, but there also are some components that are pretty similar,” he says. “Things like detail orientation, things like that, that are pretty much exactly the same between the two if you want to be successful.”

Atwell has worked in numerous restaurants, including Jean-Georges restaurant and Marea. He moved to Los Angeles to work at Wolfgang Puck Catering, but returned to Manhattan in August 2016 to work at Lafayette Grand Café and Bakery.

The only challenge? He has a sweet tooth. “When it comes to sweets, I definitely have a sugar tooth and will eat the crappiest candy out there,” he says. “I probably eat more of my fair share of things like that.”

He says chocolate chip cookies are one of his favorites. Coworkers Roe Senise and Kirsten Midtbo say there’s a good chance Atwell will eat a cookie when he bakes a batch, and he also snacks on candy, such as M&Ms and gummy bears. Midtbo says that she and Atwell have both been eating the Easter candy they’re working with.

“He probably has the biggest sugar tooth I’ve ever seen in a person,” says Senise.

Atwell says he’s less likely to eat what he bakes unless he has to sample it for work. Being surrounded by sweets makes eating them less fun.

“It’s part of the process,” he says. “It becomes less enjoyable to eat.”

He says it can be a challenge to find time to exercise, which has been a struggle for him over the past six months.

“I go through waves in my life where I try to be more healthy,” he says. “I definitely haven’t found that flow since I’ve been back here [New York City] through the busy season and things like that.”

In addition to creating desserts and developing menus, Atwell is in charge of the bakery, restaurant desserts, production lists, and wholesale and special orders. He arrives at work around 10 a.m. and leaves between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.

All desserts are created in the small pastry workspace, and breads are baked across the hall. Atwell says bread dust particles travel into their workstation so they have to protect the tempered chocolate because the particles affect the quality. Atwell will melt down what’s no longer high quality and repurpose it as regular chocolate for desserts he bakes; he can’t temper it again.

Though Atwell is surrounded by food, he rarely eats a meal, and almost never sits down to dinner. Sweets get him through the day. Once his shift is done he might go home and order food from Seamless or drop into a late-night place where he can get one of his favorites: a bacon cheeseburger medium rare with lettuce and tomato and a side of onion rings, or cheese pizza, chicken or a quesadilla.

If he gets home late and he’s tired, he’ll settle for a snack like sea salt kettle chips. He only eats the restaurant’s staff meal during his shift if he’s really hungry, which doesn’t happen often. And sometimes he gets so busy he forgets about staying hydrated as well as eating.

“It’s a fairly unhealthy lifestyle, like I don’t eat anything before I come to work in the morning ever,” he says. “And I’ll come in, if there’s something somebody is making that looks good, maybe I’ll eat a little piece of it.”

Atwell’s world may be full of food, but he seldom indulges in it in a traditional three-meal-a-day way.

Tags: , , ,

Your Comments