There’s more to Chef Mindy Segal than just a pretty plate.
When she opened HotChocolate Restaurant and Dessert Bar in Chicago nine years ago, she was very much a plated-dessert chef. Now, Chef Segal, 46, has evolved into a more well-rounded pastry chef.
“My interests have changed and shifted—I am much more interested in laminated doughs, breads, cookies, and artisan pastry, as opposed to the art of the plate,” she says. “I’ve plated desserts and composed pastries for a really long time, and—I’m not saying it’s something I’ve mastered—but I’ve done it, and now I’m pushing myself to learn something different.”
Although she won the 2012 James Beard award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in the U.S., she defines herself in a far more humble light, insisting she’s simply a cook who works on her craft every day. And she is committed to helping underserved individuals build culinary skills and find positive career paths.
“I’m super involved in the Greater Chicago Food Depository and its Community Kitchens program,” says Chef Segal. The Depository, a nonprofit food distribution and training center, sponsors a 14-week program that teaches culinary skills to people who are coming from difficult circumstances and places its students in restaurant internships.
“I take interns all the time from the program, and I hire most of them,” says Chef Segal, who was working with two interns in the HotChocolate kitchen even as she talked with FSR. “One intern is training to be a chef, and one is training to be a pastry chef,” she explains, “and I’d love to take on more interns when my bakery opens.”
In the kitchen, her work now is more about the craft than plated art, and about taking her craft to the next level. “I wake up dreaming of Danishes, sandwich cookies, five-inch pies, hot chocolate popsicles, and cocktails paired with bakery dishes—those are the things I’m really interested in now, and I have a vision.”
Chef Segal’s vision, a restaurant-driven bakery, is expected to open this fall, likely in September, in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.
“I’m re-imagining what an American bakery is. My influences are French, Italian, and Eastern European, where my family is from, but my bakery will be very American,” she says. The bakery will have a large focus on bread, and even the savory menu will “come through the eyes of a pastry chef as opposed to the perspective of a savory chef.”
Undecided which name will hang on her bakery shingle, Chef Segal says she is torn between the obvious: HotChocolate Bakery and Café, and the more subtle: HC Bakery & Café. “The reason I’m leaning to HC Bakery & Café is because HC connotes HotChocolate, my brand, and it also connotes the concept of hand-crafted, which really says what the space is going to be about.”