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Room For Dessert
by Jennifer Mogensen
How Delish's Debbie Clark swapped psychology for pastries
She always knew what she wanted to do. From a young age she was set on psychology, positively and absolutely set on psychology. She applied to and was accepted into Canisius College. She was in her third year of pre-med before she realized her true calling was cooking and cupcakes.
Debbie Clark, owner of Delish (802 Elmwood Avenue), didn’t plan on cooking or baking. She didn’t plan on owning a wildly successful pastry shop. But sometimes the best-laid plans go awry. In Clark’s case, the path she was about to follow was quite sweet indeed.
Born in Buffalo, she recalls that from a young age she would often ask her mother if she could cook the family dinner. That was her first step down the culinary path. During medical school she took yet another step when she was offered an after-school job cooking for the nuns at D’Youville College.
She found the job gratifying and began to think of a major career change. But before she jumped the proverbial ship, she took a part-time job in a local restaurant.
While working at various eateries, she began exploring baking. She baked desserts in her home and would deliver them to her customers. “I didn’t have a car back then so I would have to take a taxi to deliver the desserts,” Clark recalls.
She soon found herself dedicated to this new line of work. “I wanted to see if it was something I still enjoyed in a professional setting,” Clark says.
It was, and instead of taking just another step down her new life path, she took a huge jump. She dropped out of medical school and began working in the Buffalo restaurant scene. Within just a few years, she found herself employed as the head chef in the newly opened Just Pasta. She spent five years honing her cooking skills. She was ready to make it official.
“I decided that this was definitely going to be my career and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, to sort of legitimize it,” Clark says.
When Clark attended the two-year program at the CIA, she was one of the few female chefs at the school. Upon graduation she found herself following Don Warfe (owner of Just Pasta) down to Palm Beach, Florida, where he was about to open a second Just Pasta location. Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t survive long and Clark found her path winding back up north.
She landed in Philadelphia and moved in with a friend from the CIA. She took a job with a talented young French chef, Jean Francois Taquet. She was a member of his opening team when the doors to his brasserie, Restaurant Taquet, opened. During her stint at the upscale eatery, Clark found herself spending a good deal of time down in the restaurant’s basement watching the pastry chefs.
Taquet saw Clark’s potential and gave her a push down the path, and she took a sharp turn. She made the move from cooking to baking.
Taquet found an outlet for her to express her new-found interest, placing her in a job at a friend’s new pastry shop, Aux Petits Delices. The owner of the shop was Patrick Gauthron, a long-time executive pastry chef at the world famous Le Bec-Fin. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Clark and she seized it with gusto.
“Working with Patrick was quite an experience,” says Clark. “He was crazy but I learned so much from him and I am still using the recipes we developed together to this day.”
After five years in Philly, she was ready to bring her talents back to Buffalo. Her initial goal was to open a pastry shop but her financial baking fell through and she found herself opening a wholesale bakery instead. At one point she was baking for more than a dozen local restaurants and private clubs. One of her accounts was Le Metro on Elmwood Avenue, and with the help of one of that restaurant’s partners, Jon DiBernado, Clark opened her shop on Elmwood. DiBernado had purchased the building at 802 Elmwood and offered Clark the opportunity to rent the space. Even better, he was preparing to renovate and was willing to build to suit her needs.
Clark had a number of friends opening businesses on the Elmwood Strip at that time and she found herself spending her weekends hanging out at their shops. “Elmwood just had a really cool vibe,” says Clark.
When she started planning out the space she realized that she had way more room then she needed. She had an idea. “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to add a cooking school?”
In 2005 Delish opened its doors and became an immediate Elmwood favorite. Clark’s philosophy is to be different and unique from all the other bakeries and sweet shops in the area. “We try to be whimsical and fun with everything we do,” says Clark with a smile.
Delish offers dozens of baked goods, from cookies to wedding cakes, and her cooking school is a smashing success. It seems that Clark has found her true calling—but Clark’s vibrant and energetic personality almost guarantees that Delish is not the end of her long and sweet restaurant road.
Information on Delish, including the cooking school curriculum, can be found at delishelmwood.com.blog comments powered by Disqus
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