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Like the Pied Piper of Pastry, a soothing trail of vanilla, sugar and cinnamon wafts in the wake of Executive Pastry Chef Anna Hirst. After all, she's the gatekeeper for pretty much fresh-baked anything that appears on the mountain in chocolate, cake, cookies, cheesecake, brownie, rice krispy treat or morning pastry form. "Hey! You brought treats for me!" is a common greeting from the chairlift or on the Tram as she and her team distribute their glorious goods from the lower level of The Cliff Lodge kitchen several times daily to spots all over Snowbird.
With a steady crew of one sous (assistant) pastry chef and four bakers helping, the pastry kitchen is hopping by 5 am every day. "I like to keep it small and experienced," she says of her clockwork team. "Pastry doesn't suit everybody. It's incredibly meticulous work, and you have to be organized, work clean and have an artistic eye."
The Utah native grew up in Fruit Heights and learned to ski at the resorts of northern Utah. Hirst attended culinary school at Utah State University, and was immediately hooked on pastry work. "It's so creative and artistic," she says of the craft, with her personal specialties being the precise work of chocolate-making and elaborate wedding cakes.
"I love the detail of layered cake making and decorating" says Hirst of her unique creations. "It's fun to keep my hat in the game at all levels."
It also makes for an adventurous day for Hirst and team when they have a wedding on Hidden Peak. Each cake is baked and prepared to order, the tiers wrapped for transport, all equipment and supplies loaded onto the Tram, and then they assemble the layers and finish the stunning decorations at The Summit. Some recent hits? A cake resembling a cut-away amethyst with realistic sugar crystals, and other modern but rustic cakes resembling birch wood or mountain vistas.
"We can get great quality ingredients here," she says of Snowbird's exemplary food services program. "It makes all the difference."
There's never really a "down" season in Hirst's division, but the team's big push is Oktoberfest, when their workload includes running the popular Belgian waffle stand and supplying all of the baked goods for the main tent. Says Hirst, "Over 10 weeks, we make 275 German chocolate cakes, 125 Black Forest cakes and 400 to 500 apple strudel." In a single weekend, they've sold 2,400 Belgian waffles, going through 720 pounds of butter and 5,400 eggs during the 10-week festival.
After 12 years working at Snowbird, Hirst is still as excited to come to work now as she was from day one, both because of the challenge and breadth of projects that she can accomplish and for the unbeatable work perks. The pastry kitchen has a door right out onto Chickadee; in the summer, the team eats lunch at a picnic table next to the exit, with gorgeous views down the canyon. In the winter, they keep a path shoveled from the door so they can zip out during breaks for a run or two, and Hirst keeps her skis ready to go in her office. And she's decidedly not a fair-weather skier: "If it snows, I'm out there!" she says of her preference for powder.
Perhaps the most ironic part of Hirst's career choice is that she doesn't have much of a sweet tooth herself, preferring very good extra-dark chocolate. "You become immune to it, all the sugar," she says of her own palate preferences, noting her own philosophy tends toward balance and well-developed flavors over sugar bombs. She likes to see great ingredients shine through, and a pet peeve is "pumpkin spice season," when over-spiced flavor profiles often cover inferior technique or ingredients. Hirst's guilty pleasure? "Really, really good butter," like hand-rolled salted Amish butter. "I don't even eat bread that much," she says, "unless it's a vehicle for eating butter."
About the Author
Writer Darby Doyle shares her adventures in food, beverage and travel for The Bird mag, visitutah.com , Park City Magazine , cityhomecollective.com and Devour . She lives in the Wasatch foothills with her husband, two teenaged sons (both Alta-Bird Freeride Team athletes) and a couple of goofy Labradors.