Restaurant desserts are hard to do well. It’s common for diners to get a plate of something covered in spun sugar and modeled chocolate that looks beautiful, only to be met with disappointment in the first mouthful. But Carrie Anne Hamer, the Pastry Chef at Zola, doesn’t have this problem – her desserts not only look beautiful, but they taste wonderful.
Hamer has been interested in pastry ever since she got an EZ-Bake oven as a child and could make her mother and father their favorite pies – blueberry and cherry respectively. Originally from Virginia Beach, Hamer studied culinary arts at a vocational program in high school. After a bad restaurant experience at the age of 16 – Hamer says she has a “love hate relationship” with the industry – her career took a detour. She pursued an associate’s degree in business administration and planned on doing a major in international business. But she just couldn’t ignore her love for food. “When I was finished with my associate’s I figured out that my passion lies in the culinary field,” Hamer says. “So I applied to the Culinary Institute of America.”
After moving to DC in 2006, Hamer worked at Restaurant Eve, several different CakeLove locations, and Vinoteca, before moving to Zola in November 2009. Hamer describes Zola’s cuisine as “food that people are familiar with,” re-imagined with high quality ingredients and modern updates. “We have a mac and cheese, but it’s a lobster mac and cheese,” she explained.
Hamer’s approach to pastry is creative and spontaneous – “it’s anything that just comes into my head,” she says. “You have all these classic desserts – how can you change them, make them your own?” She brings her classical training to bear in her desserts at Zola, which are elegantly styled updates of traditional European desserts – and yes, they’re delicious.
Take her sticky toffee pudding, which pairs an incredibly moist sweet potato cake covered in toffee sauce with a refreshing butter pecan ice cream. The cake practically melted in my mouth – it was my favorite thing that I tried. The Café au Lait- a coffee mousse with a center of Irish creme, coated in white chocolate and surrounded by a Irish creme sabayon, was surprisingly light and delicately flavored. Her chocolate dessert, called “The Bittersweet Love,” has a bitter chocolate mousse atop a crunchy hazelnut base, filled with a blood orange marmalade and surrounded by a blood orange and vanilla sauce. Unlike many mousse desserts, which can be heavy, this was creamy and light, and the orange marmalade and silky sauce brought out the deep chocolate flavor of the mousse. It’s no wonder that the dessert is Hamer’s favorite – “one of my favorite flavor profiles is chocolate and orange,” she says. “I used to get a chocolate orange in my stocking every Christmas.”
Hamer is already thinking of ideas for her spring menu, like a black forest milkshake. “Some ideas come months before the season,” she admits. She’s also thought of doing a dessert for the Cherry Blossom Festival, like a green tea cake filled with a white chocolate mousse, although she’s not sure yet what will end up on the actual Zola menu.
But I’m sure whatever it is, it will be delicious, beautiful, and a sweet way to end a meal.