September 15, 2020 6 min read
Karla Marro grew up in Temuco, Chile where she spent a great deal of time at her Grandparent's bakery surrounded by their products. Already by the age of seven, Karla knew that she wanted to turn her passion for sweet things, into her future career.
As a child she began by baking cookies and lemon pound cake. Later, when it was time to leave for college, she decided to join the Culinary school in her home town.
Although Karla was beginning to acquire a solid foundation at school, there was still much more to learn. She applied for a position at Marriet, in Temuco, but was turned down based on her lack of experience. Undeterred, She did not give up her dream and moved to Santiago, the capital of Chile, in order to continue her quest for knowledge. Once there, she joined a boutique bakery. The owner of the bakery, shared a book with her, featuring Macarons by Pierre Herme. This further fueled her desire and fascination. She was determined to learn everything possible about French pastry.
Karla soon moved to the W Hotel, where her obsession with macarons continued until her colleagues began to call her: "Marrocaron".
She was greatly encouraged and spent a great deal of her own time, after work, honing her skills. Working at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Santiago afforded her another opportunity to work and learn simultaneously.
After working five years in Chile, Karla seized the opportunity to be part of the opening team for the Hyatt Ziva Hotel in Cancun, Mexico.
Moving to a new country and experiencing a new culture impacted Karla's creativity. Her next stop was NYC, where she worked at Public Kitchen under Jean George. The pastry chef there, Mr.Eric Kalaboke, expanded Karla's repertoire further, to include sorbet and ice cream. A brief stint as a Pastry sous Chef at Daniel Boulud, gave her a glimpse into the world of Fine Dining and she was hooked. She decided that this was where she wanted to be.
Unexpectedly, Karla received an invitation from Chef Suzette Gresham of Acquerello in San Francisco, CA to come and do a Stagier. Karla's trial and willingness to take on another challenge allowed her to accept the position of Pastry Chef in November of 2019. She has enjoyed having a mentor that pushes her to rethink what she does, and find the balance and finesse in every item she produces. She has also expanded her ability to manage better, communicate clearly, and present her pastry ideas verbally as well as physically. The freedom of creativity that she has enjoyed, has helped to elevate her desserts to another level.
Karla loves fashion and finds inspiration in the quotes of Coco Chanel, her favorite designer. She tries to inject that same visual appeal and delicacy into her desserts. She loves to place emphasis on symmetry, style and grace when crafting her creations.
She believes that every dessert is a Celebration and tries to make every one as unique as the guests that she serves.
Other than making mouth-watering pastries, Karla likes to play tennis and golf. She is also an amateur magician and likes to entertain others with her magic tricks.
Q1: Acquerello, in which you’re currently the pastry chef at, has maintained a Michelin star since the launch of the San Francisco guide in 2007 and obtained 2 stars in 2015, what would you attribute this large amount of success to when you think about the Restaurant and how it’s maintained? How incredible has it been to learn from Chef Suzette Gresham; one of three female chefs in the US who runs a kitchen that has earned two Michelin stars?
A: Being new to the restaurant, I have tried to analyze and understand the key philosophies that have helped Acquerello maintain its status. Bottom line: I think they are very consistent and really strive to maintain their standards in all situations.
Giancarlo and Suzette, as owners and partners, are still involved in all aspects of the operation, which sets a good example for everyone.
Learning from Chef Suzette Gresham has been very different and interesting for me. I like being challenged to see what I do, through different eyes. I have especially tried to grow as a person so that I can be successful in my own, future business. Yes, I can make beautiful pastries, but it is not enough in today's world. Chef is always after me to expand in as many ways as possible so that I might bring that to my pastries.
Q2: What has been one of the most memorable meals/dishes you’ve either created or experienced? What, where, who – details! Why does this come to mind when you think most memorable?
A: For New Year's Eve, at Acquerello, I created a dessert that looked like a "Bomb", literally. I wanted to make a spectacular presentation and light the wick, in the Bomb, in front of the Guest at the table. I struggled a lot trying to find something appropriate to use. I could not just use string, as that was not edible and would leave ashes on the plate.
Finally, after trying phyllo and marshmallow unsuccessfully, I was able to get it to work by creating a wick from meringue. The plate was splashed with passion fruit, berry, and raspberry sauce to look like the bomb had just exploded. But more importantly, it tasted great.
This whole experience was very memorable because I was determined and did not give up. It was very rewarding to have the plate succeed and be enjoyed by the guests.
Q3: If you had decided on a different career path, which profession do you think you would have chosen? Was there ever a time when you second-guessed the path, you’re on? Where do you find the most joy in your career?
A: After Pastry Chef, I think I would have liked to be a Dentist or an Interior Designer/Decorator. Although I have never really second-guessed the path, I’m on I look at life as an adventure and I’m just enjoying the ride.
Right now, I’m really enjoying expressing my creativity and feel that I have found my style in the world of Pastry which I think most all chefs strive for.
Q4: What is your least favorite ingredient to work with and why? Give us your favorite seasonal ingredient(s) for each season: spring/summer/fall/winter and how has your pastry style evolved over time?
A:I don’t really like using Vanilla extract because I am a huge fan of natural vanilla beans.
My favorite seasonal ingredients would have to be:
1. Spring - Rhubarb
2. Summer - Peaches, apricots, and berries
3. Fall - Apple, Pear, Cinnamon
4. Winter - Grape fruit and blood orange
Chef Suzette says that I have gotten more "refined". I am happy to think that my style is constantly evolving. I love sweet things, but I have discovered since I have been here that other elements can get lost when a dessert to too sweet. I have been learning to find the balance between the different nuances and the sweetness.
Also, the dessert on a multi course tasting menu must take into consideration what has come before, so that it provides a climatic ending for the Diner. In this case, I cannot think of the dessert as standing alone.
Q5: What about your first run-in with fine dining stuck and helped you decide that was what you wanted to do long term? Could you elaborate? What are your thoughts on differences between success while working on the East Coast to success working on the West Coast in San Francisco? Are you back to normal work hours and do you see any positives coming out of the last 6 months with the Pandemic?
A: I love beautiful, intricate desserts. It gives me great pride to see if I can take what I have created in my mind and get it onto a plate. Many times, it takes several attempts and failures to get it right. I love that challenge and the journey to success.
It is very interesting to see how the seasons and weather effect what ingredients I use and when. I also think the people are different and it takes a flexible personality to work in these two distinctively different environments. There is a lot of expectations to be met, wherever you are...and no matter how different the people might be, they always want to have something that makes them feel special when it comes to dessert.
No, this is anything but normal. The new challenge has been to capture the essence of what I do and make it transportable. I never imagined that I would be doing a "To-Go" menu, but I am happy to be working and have this opportunity and new challenge. It is a great way to expand my practical skill set.
If this is your first time joining us for a Q&A as a reader thank you so much for taking the time to read the chef's story.
We love to use our featured chef series to introduce our wonderful audience with some of the amazing and talented chefs who choose Clement Design every day.
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