Pastry chef brings joyful flair to Letchworth

The confections filling the pastry case at Letchworth Dining Hall’s Maxine’s café aren’t just sweet. They’ll stop you in your tracks. Belgian waffles on a stick, mini pies and peanut butter and jelly cupcakes are just some of pastry supervisor Andy Zalar’s myriad culinary creations. Campus Auxiliary Services hired Zalar in May to manage all things sweet at Letchworth. He started out developing menus with the CAS team, but now that the dining hall is open for business, Zalar spends his days baking to keep the pastry cases stocked with everything from croissants and cookies to monkey bread.

Zalar has “basically total control” over dessert at Maxine’s, giving him freedom to experiment. “Me being young myself, I was like, ‘I’m just going to think of things I would eat and put them in there,’” he said.

Zalar has experienced a huge variety of restaurant environments despite graduating from Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh with a degree in Baking and Pastry Arts only two years ago.

The Fillmore, New York native didn’t always study cooking. He pursued a management degree for one semester before deciding to focus on the culinary arts instead.

“I was just in a management class one day and I was like, ‘Well this is really boring. I can’t see myself doing this forever,’” he said. “I just decided I was going to go to cooking school.”

While Zalar added that his decision to study baking was “a spur of the moment thing,” his work as a chef has allowed him to travel extensively, working between Florida and New York. Despite growing up about 45 minutes away from Geneseo, this will be his first western New York winter in years.

After finishing culinary school, Zalar worked at country clubs in Florida and New York. He applied his skills in baking, but also worked as a cabana cook and expedited dishes, adding the final touches to them for presentation.

Zalar said that working at Letchworth differs most from working at a country club in regards to budgeting. He has to consider both the budget for ingredients and the pricing for students when he selects his daily dessert menus. He said that each option is planned with student-friendly pricing in mind.

Zalar’s plans for the future involve opening his own restaurant of sorts, whether that means creating a bakery, café or even a food truck.

No matter where he ends up with his artful desserts, Zalar said he hopes that his food will always include an element of surprise for customers. Zalar’s priorities are “mostly that it tastes good, but also that it’s something different that they haven’t heard of.”

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