The one time we had Patrick Fahy’s desserts at Blackbird, they were the dazzling capper to a very impressive meal— architectural triumphs that looked like high-fashion hats from Mars, yet tasted pretty great too. And we weren’t the only ones who felt that way, since Fahy was nominated, almost instantly, for Outstanding Pastry Chef at the James Beard Awards in 2011.
And then he was off to the Sofitel. It surprised many, but maybe wasn’t so surprising if you looked at Fahy’s resume and saw that he’s been on the move in search of new skills his whole career, even working two jobs at the same time to learn two different skill sets— as when he was at both the Ritz-Carlton and Canady le Chocolatier at the same time. At the Sofitel, where he started last week, he’ll not only work with a top-flight chef (Greg Biggers of Café des Architectes) but have an entire program doing everything the hotel needs, from birthday cakes to breakfast pastries. We talked to him about the move and what he hopes to get out of it.
So why’d you make this move?
Blackbird was so awesome, and it was hard to leave a place where you’re working with such a passionate team. But I’ll have a lot more responsibility, and so many more opportunities to work with chocolate and other ingredients and refine my skills.
In the hotel, we’ve got the restaurant, Le Bar, room service, banquets, events— the whole flow of what you produce really opens more doors. It’s a chance to learn every slice of the pie.
Okay, you got the obligatory pastry pun out of the way so I don’t have to. So it’s chocolate that lured you away?
Nah, that’s just one example. Like sugarwork, you don’t see a lot of that in Chicago because of the humidity, it doesn’t hold up. But you see it in the winter, and so I want to do more of that.
I want to do mignardises. I want to learn more about baking. We do brioche now, but I want to learn more about breads. I do want to get into housemade chocolates. A lot of hotels are forced to buy or source chocolates, I’d love to get us to where they’re all made in-house. It’ll be a lot of work, but it’s a great challenge to overcome.
You worked with your predecessor, Meg Galus, at a Les Amis du Chef dinner here a couple of months back. Was that when you decided to come to the Sofitel?
It looked like a tryout, didn’t it? But no, I just knew a couple of people here and got invited to help out.
How do you think your style meshes with Greg Biggers’ at Café des Architectes?
I think we have a lot of the same philosophy, like most chefs do these days. We want to use seasonal fruits, we’re going for a modern style and we always want to have a surprise element in what you serve. We’re both trying to keep it local. It’s a great match. But so was Blackbird.
How did you get started in pastry? Were you, like, the kid who made his own birthday cakes?
No, but I always did seem to like making my peanut butter and jelly sandwich more complicated when I was little. When I was 15 I got a job as a dishwasher and eventually moved to front of house for a catering operation. But then I was seeing all this food go by, and I decided I wanted to do that.
I found a cooking school in Florence and went there without any particular direction. And I got totally brainwashed by the Italian way of thinking about food. I wound up working for this chef named Andrea Bianchini at a winery and restaurant called San Vito in Montelupo, near Florence. He did a lot of pastry work for competition. And I was just blown away by the crazy things he was doing, and the way, at that age, he could just do it with his eyes closed. So then I knew that was what I wanted to do.