Chef Chat: Sara Brook of Dessert Gallery Bakery and Café

Meyerland native Chef Sara Brook oversees the mini-empire known as the Dessert Gallery Bakery and Café, with three Houston-area locations. An entrepreneurial spirit, Brook previously owned a bakery, The Executive Sweet, and a chocolate sauce company, The Great Chocolate Cover Up, and hopes to expand her current franchise nation-wide.

What inspired you to become a pastry chef?
I had a baby-sitter who taught me how to read using the back of a cookie package and I learned to cook cakes in an Easy-Bake oven. My daughter Jennifer just gave me the 25th anniversary edition Easy-Bake to commemorate my 25 years in business.

Did you consider culinary training?
Not really. I studied sociology and computer science at the University of Texas and briefly considered law school. What I really always loved to do was make desserts. I started my first business in my parents' kitchen soon after college.

How would you describe your typical customer?
They're people with some emotional investment in homemade desserts. I mean we don't make anything European or fancy--we provide simple desserts people recognize from their childhoods. People in line at the counter talk about things their mothers made.

What's your most popular dessert?
Old-fashioned diner yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Next would be the same cake with vanilla frosting. Also, chocolate-chunk cookies. Simple things. And we steer clear of preservatives and fillers. You can spell everything that goes into our food.

This is your third business. Have you considered selling?
No. Two years ago we moved production from the back of one of the stores to a baking facility. I think we're just getting started. I'd like to see us move into other cities.

What do you like to eat besides sweets?
Well, I'm Jewish, so any kind of bread with butter on it and Chinese food. I remember when there were so few Chinese restaurants in Houston. It's been thrilling to witness the expansion of world cuisine here. It's a shame the rest of the country doesn't see Houston as a food destination.

What do you think of all the cake-making shows on television?
I can't stand those shows. Why the hell would someone bake as competition? I honestly bake and create pastries out of love. I don't see the connection between that and contests.

Do you take special orders?
(Laughs) I can't tell you how many times someone has asked if we make birthday cakes. I love it when people look at the fifteen cakes in the display case and ask that. Put a candle in it and it's a birthday cake, right? But, yes, to the best of our ability we will create any cake a customer describes.

How do you handle complaints?
Although they're difficult to hear, most complaints are legitimate. I would say nine times out of ten complaints only bring improvement. There are customers who look for a fight, but that's not common.

What's the best compliment to hear?
One from my daughter. She thinks mom's business is cool. And she loves reading Eating Our Words; she's happy I made it into the blog. Serving a second or third generation of customers from the same family is also rewarding. And, also, employees who have chosen to stay with the business for many years. That's a great compliment.


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