A great chef has an eye for great food.
It’s easily recognizable in the presentation, flavor and simplicity, says Keli Fayard, renowned executive pastry chef at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge.
She’s been in the kitchen for 16 years, bouncing back and forth between Chicago, New York and Las Vegas, with appearances on The Cooking Channel and Food Network’s Cake Challenge.
But after a series of different life circumstances, Fayard needed a change. After a short visit to Charlotte to help out a friend in the cake decorating industry, something felt right.
“I fell in love with the area and I was only here for five days,” Fayard said about the trip. “I went home and looked online to see what was available and saw this beautiful hotel.”
Next thing she knew, Fayard found herself back in Charlotte, meeting with the hotel’s management team and showcasing her creations firsthand.
“I sent a resume late one night and by 7 a.m. that next morning I had heard from Peter Grills, hotel manager,” she said. “I wanted to do my tasting so well that they couldn’t give the job to anyone else. Everything just felt so natural.”
By May, Fayard and her twin daughters Miya and Grace made the move from Chicago to Charlotte, her girls settling in at Hawk Ridge Elementary School.
Fayard, a Chicago native, began her career at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., where she graduated in 2006. She later attended French Pastry School in Chicago, where she received a firsthand pastry education. She most recently worked at the famous Vosges Haut-Chocolate in Chicago as the research and development chef, creating recipes for candy bars and truffles.
“That was a very fun job,” she said. “But I needed to get away.”
Prior to that, Fayard cofounded and owned a gourmet French pastry shop, Vanille Patisserie in Chicago, which features high-end retail and wholesale desserts, candies, specialty cakes and chocolates. She’s worked as an assistant pastry chef to Fifth Group Restaurants in Atlanta, Ga., and held pastry positions at The Bellagio and Paris Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev.
So far Fayard said she’s loving Charlotte and the Southern atmosphere, and with an ever-changing schedule, her days can sometimes be simple or hectic, depending on hotel events or banquets. She oversees the hotel’s pastry team and production of all desserts, designs dessert menus and artisan breads served at the hotel’s Gallery Restaurant.
“My schedule is always changing. I usually start by talking with Chef Tim Toohey to get a feel for the day. I usually check on the restaurants, check on what’s happening with banquets and check with my staff upstairs,” she said. “And then I work on production…I have to. I just really enjoy it.”
Her signature dessert, the almond croissant, is a hotel favorite: baked, soaked in rum and filled with almond cream and baked again, she describes the treat as “deadly.”
“I like using very recognizable flavors,” she said, with current menu desserts such as praline hazelnut dacquoise and strawberry hibiscus gelee.
But her all-time favorite treat is the coffee éclair.
“Sometimes the most simple things are the hardest to execute,” she said. “I’ve been all over France and I always order the coffee éclair. It’s my absolute favorite dessert. For me, the coffee éclair determines if the rest of the menu will be good or no. If the basic éclair isn’t good, why would I try anything else?”
Fayard said during her time in New York, she would make between 200 to 300 éclairs every morning, six days a week to prepare for each day.
“It’s just appreciating and respecting technique that many people forget because they want to experiment and create molecular cuisine.
But the éclair is one of the fundamentals,” she said.
Still unsure of the amount of increased business the hotel may receive during the Democratic National Convention, Fayard is currently working on a fall dessert menu to unveil sometime in September.
“I have to prepare a new menu, new flavors and presentation. I have to make simple plates that need to be approved by the management teams,” she said. “Sometimes I have to go back to the drawing board, but I really enjoy that. It’s really challenging.”
And she accepts the challenge.
“I’m just a very simple person, but I like really good food with a lot of flavor that’s done well,” she said.