Chris Hanmer Interview
Executive Pastry Chef The Ritz - Carlton, Lake Las Vegas

He’s the Executive Pastry Chef for The Ritz – Carlton, Lake Las Vegas.

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 out.

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 shop.

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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