Desiree Tuttle, the pastry sous chef at Reynard in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has a tattoo of a croissant under her left ear. “Croissants are my jam, I love croissants,” she explained the other morning as she sliced one in half. “Most people don’t do this, they just bite right into the side or something. But you can see all these laminations—each one is a layer we put in there by hand.” Indeed, there’s an incredible geometry to it, like the rings on a sequoia. “It’s actually really hard to do, because we use this organic butter that’ll shingle if it doesn’t laminate properly. Then you won’t get those distinct croissant qualities, like the flaky layers.”
At twenty years old, she might be less precocious were she doing this elsewhere. Namely, anywhere but Andrew Tarlow’s esteemed new farm-to-table restaurant in the Wythe Hotel. But for more reasons than one—e.g. having spent nearly two years in San Francisco doing double-duty at Waterbar and Farallon under James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Emily Luchetti—she seems to be right where she belongs. And in a sense, all this was a long time coming.
“When I was ten, we started going to my grandpa’s farm in Maine. We’d go out and pick all this corn, and flats and flats of strawberries. I made jam with my aunt and she made this little label with my name on it and my face and I jarred it and brought it back to California—it was so awesome! It makes such a difference—it tastes so much different when you can see where the food is coming from and you’re doing it yourself.”
Otherwise, her own home in San Diego lacked for inspiration. “My mom doesn’t have a culinary bone in her body.” Afternoons at the babysitter’s house meant an occasional episode of Emeril. “Half the time, I didn’t really understand what was going on, I was just so enthralled with how excited he got about food and how excited people were to see what he was doing with it.”
By eighteen, she’d won a scholarship to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco through a competition. “You were given an hour and a half and a whole chicken. And I was like, I don’t know how to break down a chicken, I’ve never done that! I was looking up YouTube videos of these Asian women teaching you how to break down a chicken.” She showed up with a borrowed knife (“my mom didn’t believe in having sharp objects in the house”) and a couple of her grandparents’ recipes in mind, and wound up beating out the other nine finalists with an almond-crusted chicken breast, baby sweet carrots, and lemon-and-herb baked red potatoes. “I cooked my chicken to an appropriate temperature without killing people,” she told me through a wry grin.
Nine months later, she was logging hours with Luchetti and executive chef Mark Franz over at Farallon, then skipping down to Waterbar, another project of the Bay Area powerhouse of Franz and Pat Kuleto. But it wasn’t more than a year and a half before Erin Kanagy-Loux, her former instructor in school and the head pastry chef of soon-to-be-open Reynard, gave her a tug. “In San Francisco, I was learning so much and I was so excited to be in the places I was, but I was ready for more responsibility. I was coming up with menu items, but wasn’t in a position to push them because I was only a cook. Erin gave me an opportunity where I’m not only learning how to manage, but I’m in a position to grow creatively.”
At Reynard, Tuttle’s skill and curiosity folds well into Tarlow’s overall philosophy. His full line, from Marlow & Sons to Diner, is meticulous about its use of local ingredients and full animals—its retail wing, Marlow Goods, features a full line of leather goods made from the same body as that steak.
“Erin and I actually just went to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and we met with the farmers that we’re getting all our produce from. It hit home as well because it felt like I was getting to be with my family again. It was great to see where we’re getting all this beautiful fruit from and the (Amish) people who are putting in that work.”
Beyond the croissants, the pastry menu is stacked from morning ’til close. The vegan chocolate sorbet, made with Mast Bros. Papua New Guinea beans, was the densest thing I’ve ever tasted. “In Papua New Guinea, because of the flash floods, they have to dry the beans over a fire instead of on the ground, which is what gives it that smoky richness.” A menu that changes daily features fennel ice cream, sweet corn pudding cake with salted caramel corn and olive oil ice cream, and chocolate layer cake with mascarpone cream and almond-tea dacquoise.
But as demanding as the day may be, they still won’t serve her a drink after work. “I’m not a partier. I want to go wine tasting for my twenty-first. I’m working on expanding my palate and being able to read notes, on wine and coffee specifically, because you should know every spectrum of the food world, not just your department.” Indeed, next up for Reynard is a curated set of coffee-and-pastry pairings that she’s working on with their barista.
She’s an extremely careful speaker. After I’d ask her a question, she’d wait a good moment or take a bite of croissant first, the way someone much older might, had I asked them something ontological. Her age isn’t something she cares to flaunt. “I don’t think age changes judgment. I think you’re born with a good sense of judgment, and either you have it or you don’t.”
While pleased with the success of her career so far, Tuttle has her sights on the mecca of sweet desserts.
“In five years, I need to be in Paris working for a baker. Christophe Vassuer is an expert French baker I would kill to work under. Just to be there, and know that’s where it all started.” Surely that time will come.