OAK BROOK, ILL.—The Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort & Conference Center has announced the appointment of Erica Tomei as Pastry Chef. In her new role, Tomei will head dessert and bakery operations for the resort’s catering functions, restaurant outlets and retail shops. The winner of the American Culinary Federation’s 2014 wedding cake competition makes Oak Brook Hills a one-stop-shop for house-made wedding cakes, pastries and other baked specialties, something few hotel kitchens can offer.
“For me, Erica completes the equation,” said Executive Chef Sean Patrick Curry, who recruited Tomei from her post at the Chicago Marriott Naperville, where the two previously worked together. “Whether it’s a business luncheon or a dinner banquet, I want our guests to have a full restaurant experience. The pastry chef rounds out that vision. It’s no longer me telling perspective clients, ‘Let me see if I can [outsource] something.’ It’s ‘yes, tell me what you want’!”
Tomei’s style goes hand-in-hand with Curry. Her creations play off his modern farm cuisine, utilizing seasonal ingredients that are sourced locally. According to Curry, Tomei’s unique ability for flavor profiling is evident in her balanced desserts. “She is not afraid to think outside the box, to mix a little sweet and savory,” Curry says. Tomei’s gift for combining flavors to create something truly special also translates to the ethnic market. For example, she adds mango to a mousse-filled wedding cake to appeal to the South East Asian culture, whom believe mango is the fruit of the gods.
Creating a Story Through Each Recipe
“I never tell a client ‘no’ to a design,” said Tomei. “My role model in the pastry world is Elizabeth Falkner, who dares to be different by looking at her cakes as an art form. Likewise, I put me into every individually-sculpted dish. I’m trying to create a story through each recipe so that when people taste my dessert they know it’s one of mine!”
Tomei brings a variety of signatures to Oak Brook Hills, such as her renowned honey-infused concepts that incorporate fresh honey harvested from beehives located on hotel grounds. Her honey wedding cake, honey truffle, and honey scone have all received notoriety, including a feature write-up in Modern Brides magazine. Above the individual assets Tomei brings to the table, she gives the resort an in-house scratch bakery that can be promoted across several business segments, from the [planned] patisserie retail outlet to the weekly wedding reception.
The Chicago native describes her style as modern classic. “Simply put, I take classic desserts and find ways to distinctively reinvent them with a contemporary twist,” Tomei said. One such way is through the cultivating of yeast. For the last six months, Tomei has been nurturing her own yeast strain through a dough starter at home. After it continues to naturally grow, she will eventually use the starter as the base for Oak Brook Hills’ new artisan bread. Tomei and Curry have plans to ramp up hotel retail in 2016 with the launch of a patisserie that showcases all of Tomei’s pastry specialties, from her award-winning honey cake to her original artisan bread. The patisserie will be open for business to hotel guests as well as the outside public (via walk-in or call-in order).