Meet & Eat: Pastry Chef Anne Thornton, Food Network Host of 'Dessert First'

"I'm not interested in making sugar bombs."

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Thornton drizzles homemade caramel sauce over vanilla ice cream and homemade apple turnovers. [Photograph: Food Network]

Anne Thornton, the host of Food Network's Dessert First with Anne Thornton, didn't realize food was her calling until later in life. She chose to pursue degrees in finance and philosophy, then landed a job with Apple Computers first. Despite her impressive gig in Chicago, she eventually left it for New York's Institute of Culinary Education, landing a job in culinary production.

After working as pastry chefs at The Waverly Inn and Hotel Griffou, she landed a role on Food Network and is back for a second season of Dessert First. We recently spoke to her about the myth that cooks can't bake, and why she thinks people are so afraid of making pastries.

Have you always been into food? One of my first words was "more" because I loved to eat from day one. My dad's mom, my Nonnie, was an amazing baker and cook and she'd give me fake jobs in the kitchen so I could pretend I was contributing to the meal. My parents never played down to us; they encouraged us to try different foods. My sister and I were eating escargot when we were nine.

So what took you so long to pursue a career in food? I never thought it was an option. Now I understand that desserts are an edible craft, but it really never occurred to me that you could make a living at it. It took me entering the corporate world to realize that. Apple was a great company, but I just didn't have the passion for it that others did.

Many believe that chefs can't bake and pastry chefs can't cook, but you're a trained chef working as a pastry chef. What's your take on that? I'm a trained chef and a self-taught pastry chef. I believe that if you can cook you can bake. I think that divide in professional kitchens has to do with job security. At some point pastry chefs convinced chefs that what they were doing was too scientific, too precise for them to get. Julia Child had the best advice, "When baking, follow directions. When cooking, go by your own taste."

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Chef Anne Thornton, host of Food Network's Dessert First. [Photograph: Food Network]

What was the first dessert you remember falling in love with? I was seven-years-old and my family was in Paris. I had floating islands for the first time. It seemed so fancy and I remember thinking, "I could eat this every day of my life." I also looked forward to my birthday because that meant I could choose the restaurant. I always chose this place that had pecan ice cream balls that came with sides of chocolate and caramel dipping sauces.

How would you characterize your desserts? Delicious, beautiful, and perfectly imperfect. The desserts featured on Dessert First are unique and they have a rustic elegance to them. The mark of a good pastry chef is their ability to balance flavors, to have elements of salty, sweet, and bitter. I'm not interested in making sugar bombs.

Why do you think so many people are afraid of making homemade pastries? It seems like people just put a lot of unnecessary pressure on themselves. When you're making dinner at home it doesn't have to be perfect, just good. The same approach should be taken with desserts. The end result can be an expression of love, which should hopefully take a lot of the pressure off. I'm tired of people saying they can't make a cake.

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