Lauren Haas: 5-Star Pastry Chef
The scent of vanilla bean permeates throughout the kitchen prep area. Split and scraped, its tiny black seeds are combined with tarragon, sugar, and water to create a simple syrup. Tangerine segments are submerged into the syrup and a vacuum machine cycles through five times to force the tarragon syrup into the cells of the tangerine segments. These are just a few of the steps to complete Tangerine Kiss, an aromatic creation of 5-star pastry chef and instructor, Lauren V. Haas.
Pastry students hold their breath as their creations are scrupulously examined — their execution and presentation. Then Haas gives a nod of approval. There’s a collective sigh of relief as students break into smiles. It’s another day of delectable masterpieces well done.
Before teaching, Haas was named a top 10 pastry chef in 2016 by Dessert Professional. She worked in the White House, the Hotel du Pont, and at other prestigious and boutique establishments. She is currently a full-time faculty member of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, and is a USA ambassador representing various brands, including 100% Chef and Cacao Barry. Her interest in bioregional food systems and sustainable agricultural production led her to earn a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Food Systems from Green Mountain College.
Haas has tantalized the taste buds of world figures and who’s who A-listers with her unparalleled artistic wizardry. In describing her career’s best moments in her Perfect Pairing publication, she says, “Being a pastry chef has afforded me with opportunities to travel, meet new people, and experience great food.” She adds, “Many of the most memorable moments in my career have to do with the time that I spent at the White House and Blair House, where I served the first family, movie stars, and royalty. I feel humbled to have had an opportunity to be part of such an amazing team of chefs.”
Emergence of a Master Chef
While some of us were happily mastering our Easy-Bake Ovens, a little girl in Southern California had higher aspirations. By the time she was 12, creating and perfecting pastries and desserts became her favorite hobby. Her mother was an adventurous cook using food and flavors that most people would not experiment with, so Haas developed a varied culinary palette from an early age. Living in Southern California, they had access to a myriad of fresh produce and herbs. Later, they moved East where fresh produce and herb choices were more limited, but her mother was inventive with what was available.
Her father owned a construction company and she took an interest in gaining some skills by helping him with roofing projects. She appreciated the finer points of construction and workmanship in producing a quality product. She began to draw on the artistic and constructive aspects of pastry and dessert making. To her, it felt like merging both loves that she got from each of her parents.
Landing her first bakery job at age 15 scooping out cookie dough, Haas quickly advanced within a few years to creating beautiful wedding cakes. She then moved from cakes to pastry for fine dining, enjoying the intricacy and beauty of plating desserts, and creating desserts that draw their flavors and concepts from natural flavors. She says in an interview with So Good.. Magazine, “In my work, I prefer to emphasize fresh flavors, so I try to reduce sugars and allow natural, bright flavors an opportunity to shine.”
Haas was offered the opportunity to work at the White House assisting the White House Executive Pastry Chef and Assistant Pastry Chef in preparing artistic showpieces and pastries for the First Family of the United States and their guests. She stayed for a few years until she could no longer grow her skills, and decided it was time to move on to develop and refine her culinary abilities. She still remembers being 24 years old and walking into the north entrance of the White House every day to collect her security badge. She remembers meeting B.B. King and Tom Hanks. The professionalism of the White House staff still stands out to her.
A Talent for Teaching
Haas credits learning from her mentors and other leaders who lead by example as helping her become who she is. She loved teaching a variety of courses in the International Baking and Pastry Institute at Johnson & Wales but recognized that she missed being in the kitchen creating, working with people, and developing new things. For Haas, both teaching and creating in the kitchen creates a symbiotic relationship that feeds her soul.
She sees teaching as an art to be honed. Developing a personal connection to individuals allows her to be a better teacher. Seeing the light go off in a student’s head where they actually understand the concept, the science, the art, all of it. In describing her teaching experience, she says, “I never imagined teaching professionally, but when I was invited to join the faculty at Johnson & Wales University, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Now that I have been teaching for almost four years, I find that it is still as challenging, interesting, and inspiring as I found it on my first day in the classroom.”
She is an expert in classical pastry and stays current with emerging techniques and trends. When creating new things, she thinks of the artistry and flavor before envisioning how to capture them in a unique creation. She has been featured in many publications, including So Good: The Magazine of Haute Pâtisserie, American Cake Decorating, and Pastry Chef.
Her other passion is motorcycling, she grew up with her dad being an avid biker and always wanted her own. She finds that being on the bike frees her mind, makes her happy. She firmly believes that if you make time for your passions then that will feed your creativity. Being out in nature inspires her in the kitchen: the smells, the textures, colors, elements, etc. They all stir her senses as does her zeal for life and adventure. “Just keep living until you feel alive again,” she says.
Learn more about Haas and her extraordinary creations by visiting her website at www.laurenvhaas.com.