Starting this month, the Schlow Restaurant Group (SRG) led by chef Michael Schlow will open their doors to new pastry chef Alex Levin. In his role, Levin is set to lead and manage across the country. In a previous stop, the pastry dynamo wowed customers at Altamarea Group’s DC location, Osteria Morini. Before trying his new desserts at SRG spots around town, get to know a little bit more about their newest family member.
On Tap: How big of a role did pastries and desserts play for you growing up? Did you have a crazy sweet tooth?
Alex Levin: Since I was a young child, I loved to cook and to bake. At the time, that meant reading Gourmet Magazine and any cookbooks that I could get my hands on. My grandmother, who was a superstar baker and cook, also spent afternoons with me every Friday and taught me so much of what she knew while cultivating a very deep relationship with me. I always loved dessert the most because it was the grand finale, and the experience that everyone left remembering. As far as having a sweet tooth goes, I had a huge one when I was a kid – loving ice cream, anything chocolate and summertime fruit.
OT: How does this new position affect your day-to-day life?
AL: Like anything new, I am opening my life to make this new position a top priority to give all of myself to the transition and ultimately to the group, its restaurants, employees and our guests.
OT: Is there more pressure being the head pastry chef of multiple restaurants with different styles as opposed to just one? How are you planning to adapt?
AL: In my conversations with Chef Michael this past year, he challenged me to think about how I was going to evolve over the next years as a chef. He reminded me that chefs cannot remain where it is comfortable for too long. He was right. I cannot wait to be head pastry chef of the Schlow Restaurant Group’s many restaurants and styles. The position will allow me to be both student and teacher, where I can imprint my style on the dessert program while also learning about new cuisines, having fun with new dishes and flavor profiles, and working closely with chefs who can show me new tricks and techniques.
OT: You said in a Washingtonian article that the pastry is maybe the most important part of a meal, because it comes last. Does that put pressure on you when crafting the dishes?
AL: As one of my mentors said, “Pastry may be the last course, but it must never be least.” That made a huge mark on me very early on in my career. When crafting a dish, the most important thing is that it be delicious – with no exception. That being said, I love adding in some pastry magic to make delicious plates look artistic, balanced and fun. When a guest is wowed not only by the presentation but also by the flavors of the dish, then I feel a sense of joy – and the pressure to make that happen helps to fuel better work.
OT: What can the folks in DC expect from you at this new restaurant group? Have you already worked on menu items? How fast will they be on the menus?
AL: In coming into a new position, I think it is important to first integrate with the teams and learn both the unique cultures of the restaurants and their menus, and also the overall group philosophy. That being said, my mind is always thinking about new desserts. I write down all new ideas that come up and think about where they may fit. As far as changes go, I am planning to assess the overall program and make some initial adjustments where needed. As the season changes from winter to spring, new desserts will start to pop up that match with the spring and all of the new items that become available.
OT: Do you have a favorite pastry?
AL: My favorite dessert to eat is key lime pie. My favorite desserts to make are various flavors of gelato and sorbet.
OT: What are you looking forward to most with this transition?
AL: Working with Michael Schlow was what attracted me most to the position. Working with him while also organizing a new chapter for the restaurants and their desserts together is number one.
Learn more about SRG locations and Levin at www.michaelschlow.com.