“I don’t even have a sweet tooth,” says pastry chef Cheyenne Meyer. “Actually I prefer savory food to eat. I just love working with desserts.”
Meyer may not have a sweet tooth, but she certainly has a mastery of sugar: Meyer joined Chez TJ in Mountain View this fall, crafting desserts that range from the refreshingly light to the decadently rich — all with unexpected details.
For Meyer, Chez TJ is the latest in a lineup of Michelin-recognized restaurants she’s been a part of. Her past experiences include working at Lazy Bear in San Francisco, Bird Dog in Palo Alto, the Village Pub in Woodside and Madera at the Rosewood Sand Hill. Most recently, she was at Alexander’s Patisserie in Mountain View.
Meyer always loved art, but becoming a pastry chef is a career twist that Meyer didn’t initially plan. As a child growing up in an Illinois farm town of about 10,000 people, she loved playing with pens, pencils and paints. Then, about six years ago, she got the idea to move to the Bay Area to pursue performing arts, her sights set on acting school.
“I was so scared of Los Angeles, so I went to San Francisco,” Meyer recalls. “I thought, ‘I want to start small.’”
One unexpected perk of city life was the restaurants. As people invited her out to try different foods, Meyer was inspired to imagine what else she could do.
“I didn’t even know how cool food could be until I moved to the city, because we didn’t have anything like this,” Meyer says.
Meyer enrolled in pastry school, thinking that she would make cakes and cupcakes. “Then I was like, ‘There’s more,'” Meyer says.
It turns out there was much, much more. “We started to work with sugar, and I started to see how much art went into things. These show pieces were really blowing my mind.”
One she made of chocolate — a showpiece inspired by artist Salvador Dalí, winter and other sources of inspiration. “I was literally sculpting art with food,” Meyer says. “I still apply that concept today. My plate is my canvas.”
Since starting at Chez TJ, Meyer has crafted all manner of mignardises and “little bites,” beautiful edible sculptures in miniature.
“I never try to limit myself to doing what is common in the pastry world,” Meyer says. “I love breaking the rules and I constantly say, ‘Don’t tell me what to do.'”‘
Turn a savory flavor into a dessert — why not? What about a cocktail? Definitely.
With that in mind, Meyer’s created a squash display with a fried squash chip, brown butter cake and pumpkin caramel sauce. It features a toasted milk panna cotta, made from toasted dehydrated milk powder blended up with heavy cream.
There’s a fig pâte de fruit, and Meyer also took inspiration from a basil cocktail she sampled at an Italian restaurant, channeling that creative energy into a dessert that showcases the beauty of apples, featuring compressed apples, apple sorbet, apple basil gin soup and a creme fraiche yogurt mousse.
Her dark chocolate bananas Foster takes inspiration from trying new things at the market, and pushing herself to find complimentary flavors. The ingredient that inspired this dessert? A habanada pepper.
“I just knew that I had to use this cool unique flavor, and based my entire tartlet around making that the star,” Meyer says of the graham tartlet with yellow peach and habanada pepper jam. “I’m so proud of the filling.”
Going forward, Meyer says she hopes to create unexpected desserts that push the boundaries of pastry and create experiences people won’t find anywhere else. Soon, she plans to create a new dessert inspired by a cocktail she had at a restaurant that will feature mezcal, mole, piloncillo and huitlacoche.
“I like to think I can keep making the unexpected because I set zero expectations,” Meyer says. “I give myself total freedom when making something new.”
So Meyer has become an artist after all: As a pastry chef, it’s just a different sort than she had imagined.
“I approach pastry as a form of art. It requires an immense amount of focus, dedication and most importantly passion. You shouldn’t approach this field with the intention of making a ton of money, because that isn’t what it’s about,” Meyer says. “It’s about creating edible art for the world to experience. It’s about expressing yourself and pushing your creative limits. And most importantly, it’s about just having fun.”