In “Give Me Some Sugar,” Emily Hilliard introduces us to some of the South’s most talented female pastry chefs, courtesy of the Southern Foodways Alliance. They do right by the classics while developing a new canon of their own. Check back every Monday to meet a reason to save room for dessert.
Who: Carla Cabrera-Tomasko
Where: Bacchanalia, 1198 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, GA
“The Global South” is a popular concept in cultural studies these days. Simply put, it’s a way to compare cultural, political, historical, and socioeconomic trends among the world’s many “Souths”—places like Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa. Here at home, examining the Global South also means looking at international influences on American Southern culture—as well as the American South’s cultural influence on other parts of the world. In 2010, The Global South was the theme of the Southern Foodways Alliance’s annual symposium, and featured talks on topics ranging from the Cuban influence on Floridian cuisine, to Croatian and Vietnamese shrimpers in Mississippi, to the African origins of rice production in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia.
The work of pastry chef Carla Cabrera-Tomasko is part of this picture of the Global South. Growing up in Ecuador, she started selling cakes at age 16. “My aunt taught me to make cakes and flan,” says Carla. “I always liked being in the kitchen.” As her cake business grew, she wanted to learn more about the culinary arts. Her cousin told her about the Atlanta Art Institute’s Culinary Arts program, and in 2000 she moved to Atlanta to enroll.
Carla’s desserts at Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison’s Bacchanalia often feature locally sourced ingredients and typical Southern products, interpreted through her memories of what she grew up eating in Ecuador. Earlier this month, for example, the Bacchanalia dessert menu featured a tres leches cake with fresh Florida strawberries. Last summer she made blueberry hand pies, which simultaneously recalled South American empanadas and traditional Southern fried pies.
“I try not to be too crazy or copy something that’s already been done. I don’t want to recreate, but I want to inspire the memory,” she says. She explains a dessert she recently made for the Southern Foodways Alliance’s New South Family Supper: her take on the Tango, a popular packaged cookie in Ecuador. “It’s two vanilla wafers sandwiched with vanilla cream and covered in chocolate. It’s like a Moon Pie,” Carla says. “When I was little, I would buy them all the time.”
Carla likes finding these intersections between the cuisines of her two homes, and says it’s a way for her to feel connected to the South while expressing her own heritage. “There’s a lot of overlap between Ecuador and the American South,” she says. “For instance, I grew up eating grits, but in a different way. It’s prepared differently, but the grain itself is the same. It’s from this region, but also reminds me of home.”