Chris Hanmer Interview
Executive Pastry Chef The Ritz - Carlton, Lake Las Vegas
He’s the Executive Pastry Chef for The Ritz – Carlton, Lake
Prior to joining The Ritz – Carlton, Lake Las Vegas in 2005, he served
as Assistant Pastry Chef for Bellagio in Las Vegas.
He also worked at the International School of Confectionary Arts in Gaithersburg,
Maryland where he participated in national and global demonstrations with
famed confectioner Ewald Notter.
His educational background includes a certificate in culinary arts from
Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California and advanced studies in France
at L’Ecole Du Grand Chocolat.
He competed in the World Pastry Team Championship in 2004 which was televised
on the Food Network. At the age of 26, he became the youngest American to
win this championship.
He is Chris Hanmer.
Q – Chef Chris, since Las Vegas is a city that
never really sleeps, what hours of the day are you working?
A – Well, I usually come in anywhere from 7 in the morning ‘til
8, 9 o’clock at night. My hours really vary depending on the business
of the hotel. On average I do about 12 hour days. I usually like to get
in early when my staff is fresh and try to set the mood for the day.
Q – What do you work-----six days a week?
A – Luckily, I have a great assistant so, this is one of the few
jobs I’ve had in the past couple years where I can actually take my
two days off, but again, sometimes we go stretches of 14, 16, 18 days in
a row without a day off. I’d say six days, if I had to average everything
Q – What kind of crowd are you getting at The Ritz – Carlton?
A – I think in general Ritz – Carlton draws a clientele that
is for sure affluent. Our company standard is kind of a warm, relaxed ambiance,
so we get a lot of leisure travelers. We get a lot of people that are expecting
the finer things. Primarily, we get higher-end, somewhat middle-aged. For
our particular property, we get a lot of families as well. They can stay
in Las Vegas, kind of away from the Strip and have a more family-oriented
atmosphere at our particular hotel.
Q – At what age did you know you had this talent
to create fancy desserts or is there another term I should be using?
A – I think fancy desserts is fine, elegant desserts, whatever. I
actually started in the kitchen when I was 15. So, at 15, I guess I kind
of discovered that I could work with my hands and really enjoy doing it.
I was actually working on the hot side. I wasn’t actually doing pastry
then. I probably started doing pastry at 17 or 18, in the same establishment.
Once I saw my first pastry book called ‘The Professional Pastry Chef’ I
saw what was capable of pastry. It’s a very old book, even then. Still,
when I saw the things you could do with pastry, I couldn’t believe
that it was food. I think once I saw that, I was hooked.
Q – Had someone in your family ever been a
Pastry Chef or in the restaurant business?
A – Not even a little bit. We have no culinary-type background. I
didn’t grow up going to finer restaurants. It was just something that
I saw. It’s a very instant gratification profession. Within that,
not many people do pastry and within that not many people do it well. The
better I did it, the better I felt, the more that I could do, the more that
I learned and that’s how I kept going. I just loved learning and making
something with my hands and knowing 5 minutes later if it was good or not.
Pretty rare in a profession.
Q – You studied Advanced Culinary Arts in France.
A – That’s right.
Q – Why France? Are they more advanced then
the U.S. in creating fancy desserts?
A – I think at the time I went there it was about a week seminar.
So, I was very young at the time and working at a different Ritz – Carlton.
When you’re growing up in this profession and you’re learning
this profession it is somewhat of an atmosphere if you want to learn, you
go to France. The French palate is much more refined than the American palate,
for sure. There’s pastry shops on every corner when you go to Paris.
That drive of actually wanting to go there myself and see it, kind of gave
me more inspiration and a bigger insight into what I wanted to do and what
level I wanted to reach.
Q – You were part of a team that won the World
Pastry Team Championship in 2004. What does that translate to for you
professionally? Does that mean you can get more money for any position
you apply for?
A – Absolutely. It is probably the most difficult pastry competition
in the world as far as judging talent. Everything is made ‘live’.
You have 13 hours to do it. So, to have that accreditation on your resume,
especially since there’s only a handful of them-----I’m only
the second American, the only male and the youngest ever to win; from a
company marketing standpoint it’s associated with my name. So, I think
I would have a little better shake over someone with similar experience
because I had put 2 years of my life into something and accomplishing it.
Q – How many people do you have working alongside
you or working under you?
A – Right now I have eleven.
Q – That’s a lot of people!!
A – Yeah, it is. For a full-service from scratch hotel; that’s
what we need in order to be able to accomplish the goals that we have, the
standards that I have. We make everything from scratch. We have to have
talented people. We have to have the people to guide them and help them
fit to our standards. It’s a 24 hour operation for us in the pastry
Q – This might seem like a silly question, but, how fattening are
those desserts you’re making?
A – (Laughs.) I don’t count. (Laughs). You enjoy them in moderation.
The fun thing about my job is, it really is an indulgence. People might
not come here everyday and have the dessert, but the times that they have
it, I would like it to be memorable and be worth it. I don’t particularly
strive for very healthy desserts on the menu. We do have healthy options
as far as sorbet and fruit and berries and a little bit of cream. I don’t
necessarily plan a menu on how fat-filled it can be, but, just how much
flavor and how much texture and how much fun it can be on those experiences
you’re going to have at the hotel.
Q – This would seem to be a rather unique period
in history. Celebrities have been made of people like Emeril Lagassee
and Rachel Ray. Why are people so fascinated with food?
A – I think people have been fascinated with it. It’s something
that we all do, but people think it’s something out of their reach.
The Food Network has probably played the biggest role in making it seem
like what we do as a profession is so creative. For so many years in this
country, chefs were behind the wall. All you saw was their work. You didn’t
see what went into it. It’s almost like a do it yourself kind of craze
right now. People see it and they have a much greater appreciation for it.
I think it’s fantastic.
Q – Is it your ambition to have your own show
on the Food Network and have your own line of cookbooks?
A – I would love to. Absolutely. I’ve done a lot of demonstrations,
a lot of teaching over my career, so being in front of crowds and inspiring
people is definitely something I’d like to do someday.
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