Sweets Talking with Sandi Reinlie

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Courtesy Claire McCormack Photography

Jeanine Donofrio of Love & Lemons checks in with Sandi Reinlie (Pastry Chef, Vespaio) to talk about the sweeter things in life – from finding her culinary calling to which desserts top her list of favorites.

Sandi Reinlie is the pastry chef at Vespaio on South Congress. She grew up in Florida working in her family’s restaurant business, where at age 12 her first tasks were making pizza dough and washing dishes. She spent countless hours in her grandmother Beverly’s kitchen enthusiastically watching as her grandmother transformed basic ingredients into delicious sweets.

In 2012, Austin Chronicle Food Editor, Virginia B. Wood, gave Sandi’s lemon panna cotta the number one spot on her Top 10 Sweet Bites, calling it a “transcendent sweet bite.”

What (or who) inspired you to become a pastry chef?

It came from two places. My family, especially my grandma Beverly. She loved to bake, which inevitably was passed on to mom and on to me. I have fond memories as a child making blueberry muffins with my mom, and also watching my grandma make strawberry jam using strawberries we picked from their farm. My dad opened and managed several restaurants, and I started working in them at the age of 12 years old. I loved it!

I worked in the music business for 10+ years and became burnt out living on a tour bus. I was at a loss as to what to do. My dear friend Yvette and her daughter, Sophia, had just moved to Austin. I offered to host Sophia’s birthday party at my house and make a cake. Sophia is my god-daughter, so I wanted to make it very special for her. She was obsessed with monkeys, so I made her a monkey cake. That was it! I realized I needed to go back to my roots.

I looked into culinary school and decided to go into pastry because I loved to bake and the thought of breaking down an animal was too much for me to even contemplate doing. And so the journey began…

Who inspires you now and how do you come up with new ideas? Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process?

I have many muses… My best friend Danika Boyle is a private chef. Although she doesn’t bake (and I cannot stress that enough), she helps me look at things in ways I never would. I often feel that some of my best desserts come from a brainstorming session with her, over wine of course…

I love local pastry chef Plinio Sandalio. I adore his flavor profiles and his confections are never cloying sweet, which is my biggest pet peeve.

Travel is also a huge source of inspiration. I have traveled to 48 out of the 51 states and am heading to Puerto Rico this summer. I’ve been to most of the western European countries and I find the Mediterranean magical. I gather inspiration not only by sampling others’ food and going to markets, but by exploring different artistic and cultural traditions.

I also spend a lot of time at Book People & Central Market perusing the aisles, especially the cookbooks. I have an obsession with cookbooks.

Besides butter and sugar, what are 3 of your favorite ingredients?

70% chocolate, espresso & liqueurs.

Do you have a favorite dessert that you’ve made?

Torta di Cioccolata. Warm flourless-chocolate cake, malted milk gelato, toasted meringue, crispy spanish peanuts

When you’re not working, what sweets do you like to make at home in your free time?

All occasion cakes. I just love to play with flavors (not decorate— I hate making wedding cakes). I make a deliciously moist cake if I do say so myself.

If you had 15 minutes and a sudden sugar craving, what would you make?

Brownies!!! (Without a doubt.)

Can you give us any hints about what you’ll be making at the festival?

Keeping in mind the heat and mass quantity of food & alcohol consumed, it will be light, (especially since my demo is toward the end of the day on Saturday). Working at Vespaio, I have come to love Panna Cotta. Mine won’t be at all gelatinous, it will be light and creamy. It will be very Italian, with nuts, fruit and a little surprise. You will just have to come by my table to see what it is!

Join Sandi at the Chef Showcase on Sat., 4/26!