Last month, we welcomed a new member to the Nightwood family — executive pastry chef, Sarah Mispagel. And now, we’d like to tell you a little bit about her, her desserts … and her tattoos.
Sarah, 27, was born in San Diego and raised in a nearby suburb (Oceanside) by her “California hippie” parents, who encouraged a very organic, vegetarian lifestyle. She later attended culinary school at the Art Institute in Orange County, and after graduation, she took a job at a local vegan, gluten-free bakery. After a year there, she moved to Portland, Oregon, and worked at Delphina’s Bakery (which is considered Portland’s oldest artisanal bakery), where she worked extensively with breads, and croissant and Danish doughs. Then, it was on to Cincinnati; she not only baked for a restaurant group, primarily doing bread production, but she also made wedding cakes part-time at a bakery called SugarPlums.
It wasn’t until 2010 that Sarah and her husband decided to move to Chicago. “We were visiting some of my husband’s family on the North Shore, and I totally fell in love with the city. My husband always knew he wanted to move here at some point, and we needed a change from Cincinnati, so we packed up the U-Haul and drove to Chicago on July 5th.”
Life in the Windy City:
Though Sarah didn’t immediately jump into the restaurant scene, her husband, who is also a chef, encouraged her to submit her resume to mk, which led to her first stage ever. “Honestly, I had no desire to work at a restaurant, and just never thought about trying it since all of my experience had been in bakeries. The idea of fine dining was just really weird to me!” Needless to say, Sarah staged a second time and was offered a pastry assistant position two months later. “I worked closely with Tony Galzin, the head pastry chef at the time, and he was a wonderful mentor. It was the first place that I had experienced the camaraderie of a kitchen; it was like a second family for me.”
After a year and a half of working with Galzin, learning how to conceive a menu and transition her knowledge as a baker to that of a pastry chef, Galzin left for Nashville, so Sarah applied for — and immediately landed — the pastry sous chef position at Sofitel in September 2012. “I did things there that I never thought I could do, like learning how to properly temper chocolate and make beautiful truffles and macaroons, but it was definitely a different environment; more corporate and sterile.”
Next stop … Nightwood:
Missing that feeling of “family” in the kitchen, Sarah soon began seeking out new opportunities; so when the executive pastry chef position became available at Nightwood, she jumped on it. “Whenever I had a night or Sunday off, I’d come in to Nightwood for dinner or brunch. It had always been one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, so I applied for the job right away.”
After a tasting and extensive interview process, Sarah was officially offered the job. “I was a little worried at first because JV told me there had been a lot of chefs in and out (applying for the position), who obviously weren’t making the cut. I kept saying to myself during my tasting: “Please don’t let this be a pastry one-night-stand!’.” And lucky for her, it wasn’t.
“I like that the menu at Nightwood is focused on seasonality, because it keeps my job really interesting. I’ve been used to menus that only change every few months, so it’ll be fun not having months of preparing the same things.”
Sarah also likes to play with savory elements, as long as they’re thoughtful. “I cook by flavor, not color, so everything on the plate has its purpose.”
And now that she’s landed her first position as a head pastry chef, she knows she’s 100% accountable. “I’ve always held myself to a very high standard, but now it’s really just me. I think the biggest difference is that my name is now attached to every single dish I put out there, and even though I have to be prepared to take any criticisms that come my way, it also makes me really happy, as any successes will be mine, too.”
Fun Facts about Sarah:
- An Elvis impersonator married her and her husband in Las Vegas.
- She has two dogs – a pug named Mochi, and an English bulldog named Bacon Samwiches.
- Speaking of bacon, the first time she ate bacon was while living in Cincinnati: “We had been out drinking all night, and on our way home from the bar, I told my husband I was ‘bacon curious’ … so he ordered me a BLT. It was great.”
- She ate her FIRST burger (ever) at Kuma’s Corner when she moved to Chicago in 2010.
- She has countless tattoos, many of which are food and cooking-inspired. Check out her Kitchen-Aid stand mixer!
Sarah often plates desserts on Friday and Saturday nights, so if you happen to stroll past the counter and see her, be sure to say hello! We are thrilled to have Sarah as a part of the team and can’t wait to see what she has in store for us.