The Sweeter Side by Rita Bean
I recently had the pleasure of sitting with Avery Collins, the sensational, new pastry chef for the award-winning restaurant, Clover. We discussed her fabulous new job, where the ideas for her mouth-watering combinations come from and how she’s adjusting to her new home.
We met at her place, a beautifully restored carriage house on a property that was just picture perfect, well, all but the beat-up, pee-yellow station wagon parked in the drive. As soon as I climbed from my car, the scents of vanilla, chocolate, butter and cinnamon drifted toward me. I would be perpetually hungry if I shared space with Avery and likely several dress sizes bigger.
Upon knocking, she called for me to enter and my first image of Avery Collins was one I’m sure to remember. Dressed in sweats, her auburn hair pulled up into a knot, she was surrounded by delectable treats. The woman behind the masterpieces had a bowl tucked under her arm. Bright green eyes, filled with humor, greeted me first.
Avery: I can’t stop whisking or it’ll throw off the consistency of the mousse. Please come in. Not the best first impression, I look a bit like a mad scientist in my laboratory with the scattered remains of failed experiments, but I’m harmless.
Her greeting encapsulates Avery Collins perfectly…a woman dedicated to her craft, who happens to have a wicked sense of humor. I settled at the kitchen island, notepad and recorder in hand, but I can honestly say the chocolate cake smothered in blackberries distracted me. Avery noticed, a slight blush colored her cheeks.
Avery: I can be socially awkward, so there is a method to my madness. If I dazzle your taste buds, maybe you won’t notice that I’m not the greatest conversationalist. Now if you were interviewing my sister, she’s a brain surgeon, smartest person I know. She can talk about pretty much anything. And when you get her started on a subject she really likes, she can just go on for hours. That’s usually when I slip slowly into madness before my eyes roll into the back of my head and I die of boredom. But I mean, my sister’s great. She’s the best. I love her dearly. Oh hell, are you going to print that? You’re going to print that. You should print that, payback for her comment in Medical Weekly. She called me an airhead, the first documented case of a person being born without a brain. Can you believe that?
She tried for anger, but the affectionate smile that curved her lips was proof that she and her sister were very tight. And as much as I wanted to hear more about her sister, I steered the interview back on track.
Rita: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me and for it to be here where I can watch you work is definitely a treat.
Avery: Are you kidding? I’ve been reading your column for years. I can’t believe I’m actually going to be featured in it. I’ve been pinching myself since you called, gave myself a nasty bruise.
Rita: It’s always a treat for me to interview up-and-coming chefs, especially those that are fans of the column. It’s kind of my way of giving back. So getting right to it, when did you know this was what you wanted to do with your life?
Avery: I wish I could say something profound, but the truth of it is as a kid I had a craving for chocolate chip cookies with blueberries. I couldn’t find them, so I made them. Some kids dream of unicorns or winning the big game, of prom or becoming homecoming queen. Me, I dream in chocolate and cake, pudding and ice cream.
Rita: So you’re very passionate about sweets.
Avery: I wouldn’t have the ass I have without them.
Rita: Talk to me about your process? How do you keep pushing the envelope, finding new mouthwatering combinations?
Avery: I like sweets. It’s really as simple as that. I take combinations that I love and put a spin on them. It’s a lot of trial and error, but I do so enjoy tasting every concoction until I find the perfect blending. If I can dream it, I can create it. That’s kind of my personal tagline.
Rita: Tell me about your interview at Clover. I’m sure there are many readers curious as to how one interviews for a position as pastry chef?
Avery: I imagine the process is different from place to place. For my interview, Francois Moree, the executive chef of Clover, and Clover’s owner, Trace Montgomery, asked that I create three desserts. They watched as I prepared them, studying not just the end product but how I handled each step along the way. I selected recipes that allowed me to use a range of techniques.
Rita: That had to be nerve-racking.
Avery: Have you ever met Francois Moree or Trace Montgomery?
Avery: Nerve-racking doesn’t even cover it. I tend to babble nonsensically when I’m nervous, but luckily for me I lost myself in the work once I started preparing the dishes. The interview was over before I knew it.
Rita: And we know it was a success. Congratulations. So you moved from Pennsylvania to the Bronx. I have to say, I felt like I was entering a secret garden pulling up the drive. It’s magical.
Avery: That was my first thought too. It’s amazing, so private and picture perfect, and you haven’t even seen the best part yet.
Rita: Best part?
She leaned closer as if trying to keep anyone from hearing what she said next, even though it was just the two of us.
Avery: My landlord is…I’m going to let you be the judge. I swear the fairy godmother that works this area needs a stern talking to. You think I’m kidding, but when I finish with this we’ll sit outside. He’s in his workshop now, but the scents coming from here will stir him from his cave. I have chairs outside; believe me you’ll want to be sitting down when you get your first look at him.
I can honestly say in the fifteen years I’ve been writing this column I have never had an interview quite like this one. And more surprising, I found myself intrigued, enough that we did settle in the chairs outside, chairs that were facing the house not the yard. We hadn’t been there long when a large, black dog meandered from the barn—her landlord’s workshop…a master carpenter who specializes in custom furniture.
Avery: That’s Loki. Rafe’s dog. He’s sweet, a little lazy, but we’re working on that. Aren’t we Loki?
She said this as she rubbed the large animal’s head. He dropped down on her feet, enjoying the affection. Minutes later, a deep voice carried from the barn.
Avery: Wait for it.
And I did, I felt Avery’s anticipation and it caused my own pulse to pound. And then her landlord appeared and she was right, I was grateful for the chair—tall, dark, handsome and then some. I typically would have edited out the following dialog since the focus of the interview was Avery, but the dynamic between her and her landlord provided another layer to the overall picture that is Avery Collins. And it was simply too juicy to cut out.
Avery: Amazing, isn’t he? I could stare at him all day. Hi Rafe. This is Rita Bean. She’s interviewing me for her column, The Sweeter Side.
Standing, I took the hand he offered. He was a tall, built with shoulder-length black hair and bright green eyes. The faint scent of sawdust clung to him.
Rita: You’ve a wonderful place here.
Rafe: Thank you. It’s nice meeting you. Avery, I smell chocolate.
Avery: I’ve a blackberry, chocolate cake with your name on it. And a chocolate mousse flavored with chilies. Chocolate cookies with raspberry purée swirled through them.
Rafe: I want all of the above.
Avery: I want y…to finish the interview and then I’ll plate you up a sampling.
It was unseasonably warm, but the temperature spiked even higher as I sat transfixed by the dynamic happening in front of me.
Rafe: I’m looking forward to tasting your…creations.
Avery: You’ll want to take your time tasting, to savor the flavors on your tongue—the sweet with a hint of spice.
The grin he flashed her, even I felt the effect of it.
Rafe: And I do like sweet things, even better when they have a bite.
Avery: Oh God, I’d like to take a bite out of…that chocolate cake.
Rafe’s head back laugh was well timed since the air was heating up to a combustible level.
Rafe: Come Loki. Let’s go for a walk. It was nice meeting you, Rita.
Rita: And you.
Avery: My IQ takes a hit every time he’s near, but I’m only human. I mean, seriously, look at him. He looks even sexier walking away. I am sorry for getting off topic. Rafe is very distracting. Would you like some cake?
Rita: And a tall, glass of water. I’m suddenly feeling rather parched.
Avery: He leaves me perpetually parched, so I totally get that.
Avery Collins is a refreshing personality with a gift for creating truly spectacular desserts. A woman who is humble, self-deprecating, honest and just a bit goofy. I thoroughly enjoyed my day with her, gained a few pounds, and got to witness first-hand the laws of attraction. Treat yourself and visit Avery at Clover. Your taste buds will thank you.
Text copyright © 2016, L.A. Fiore
Avery Collins has just landed her dream job, pastry chef for the posh-Manhattan restaurant Clover. Her new boss, Trace Montgomery, even helped with securing her an affordable place to live: a beautifully restored carriage house owned by his friend, Rafe McKenzie—a man that makes her catch her breath and stirs her imagination. Trouble is, he’s involved with someone, his father is being released after 25 years in prison and Avery is just his tenant. Exploring the attraction that sizzles whenever they’re together would be the icing on the cake, but Avery knows all too well that you can’t have everything. Of course, what’s cake without icing?
Rafe McKenzie’s world shattered at nine when his father Liam—the only parent he knew—was arrested and convicted for armed robbery. Growing up in the system, Rafe managed to survive his childhood and now has a job he enjoys, a house he’s restoring and a tight circle of friends. He’s even working on reconciling with his dad, both eager to put the past in the past.
Happy for the income a tenant would bring, Rafe agrees to rent his carriage house to Clover’s new pastry chef. When Avery Collins pulls up his drive, she’s not at all what he’s expecting. Funny, sexy and as sweet as her desserts, it doesn’t take long for things between them to heat up. Just when it seems as if they’ll have their cake and eat it too, the past comes back with deadly intent leaving Rafe to figure out who’s pulling the strings before his world shatters again.
Due to strong language/sexual content,this book is not intended for readers under the age of 18.
L.A. Fiore is the author of several books including: Beautifully Damaged, Waiting for the One and His Light in the Dark. She’s also the social secretary for her two children, a tamer of ill-mannered cats, the companion to one awesome dog and married to her best friend. She likes her wine red, her shrimp chilled and her social gatherings small and intimate.