Fine, fresh, familiar flavors
Photography by Philip Geiger
Sometimes Anastasia Simpson, executive pastry chef for The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, considers removing the molten lava chocolate cake, the mud pie or the key lime pie from her menus. That is, until her patrons let her know they have come to count on her familiar favorites.
“People know what they like, and they like what they can recognize,” says Simpson, who is the 2016 Best Pastry Chef, awarded by Edible Monterey Bay’s readers. “I admire artisan chefs who can bring savory into sweet, who can mix in seaweed or truffles, or blend smoked oak wood with just the right flavor of ice cream to create something appealing. But I am ‘old school.’ I prefer to work with flavors people know and do something really special with them.”
Growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia, a constant observer of her mother and grandmother as they prepared family meals, Simpson understood early on that she, too, would spend her life in the kitchen. She also knew it would not be at home.
“My mother and grandmother were the Martha Stewart of housewives, cooking and baking, teaching their friends how to do it, and always working from scratch to make really good, familiar food,” Simpson says.
But Simpson’s path to Spanish Bay would involve extensive training and travel.
She studied formally with the legendary chef Paul Bocuse at his École des Arts Culinaires et de l’Hôtellerie in Écully, France. She also interned at Hotel Raphael, Paris, and at the Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel in California before marrying architect Paul Simpson and moving to Pacific Grove.
In 2000, Simpson joined the kitchen at The Inn at Spanish Bay, which creates all of the desserts for the hotel restaurants, Pèppoli, Roy’s and Sticks, as well as special events like weddings, Concours d’Elegance and Pebble Beach Food & Wine.
At Spanish Bay, Simpson quickly became known for her work ethic and attention to detail. By 2007, she had worked her way up to assistant pastry chef. Four years later, she was named pastry chef.
“For me, a good pastry chef is not just someone who can produce good desserts and make a good showpiece. The person has to be respectful and compassionate with his or her employees, always have good teamwork, and encourage them to be better and more passionate about their job.”
In addition to her beloved signature desserts, Simpson has become known at Spanish Bay for dramatic gingerbread houses, which go on display in the hotel lobby during the winter holidays.
This past year, two little boys kept a close and patient vigil on a gingerbread village, hoping to be present when it was finally dismantled.
They were, and Simpson awarded their devotion with the gift of the main house.
“It is always very satisfying when people enjoy and appreciate my work,” says Simpson. “I appreciate my crew, and I appreciate my husband. Without his support, without his care of our three kids and his home cooking, I could not do this job.”
Simpson lifts a warm chocolate chip cookie, crisp on the edges, soft in the center, from the cooling rack, destined for the beverage cart on the golf course, room service or the restaurants.
“You can’t go wrong,” she says, “with a good chocolate chip cookie.”
Runners up were: 2nd place, Ben Spungin, CLM/Restaurant 1833 and 3rd place, Parker Lusseau
Lisa Crawford Watson lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where she is a freelance writer and an instructor of writing and journalism at California State University, Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College.
The Inn at Spanish Bay
A fifth-generation Northern Californian, Lisa Crawford Watson has enjoyed a diverse career in business, education and writing. She lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where her grandmother once lived and wrote. An adjunct writing instructor for CSU Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College, Lisa is also a free-lance writer, who specializes in the genres of art & architecture, health & lifestyle, food & wine. She has published various books and thousands of feature articles and columns in local and national newspapers and magazines.