September 18 — For many, dessert is chocolate, vanilla, maybe strawberry, and a drizzle of caramel.
Club de Las Campanas executive pastry chef Rebecca Freeman has more creative ideas for the desserts she prepares throughout the day for the club’s 850 exclusive members.
“There are certain flavor combinations that I can’t get over,” Freeman said, citing one combination: “Strawberry, basil, hibiscus, black pepper.”
She uses them in an olive oil cake with basil ice cream and also a strawberry cream, a mousse pastry.
“Another flavor combination I can’t get over is mission figs, fig leaf ice cream and coconut,” Freeman said. “I try to bring it out every summer.”
Freeman opted for pumpkin pie, salted white chocolate ice cream, cranberry jelly, coffee caramel and candied walnuts to advance to the July finals of the national Pastry Chef of the Year competition in March organized by the American Culinary Federation.
“I had a new personality and a fresh dessert that they had never seen before,” Freeman commented.
Freeman then won the ACF Pastry Chef of the Year award among five regional winners with a coffee and chicory milk chocolate namelaka, a creamy dessert that she topped with roasted banana ice cream, burnt bananas, pecan praline and sweet chocolate. She crowned her victory with a layered cake made of passion fruit cream, grenadine jelly, orange-rum white chocolate mousse and sponge cake.
She thinks she won because the other contestants were cooking teachers and restaurateurs.
“I’m definitely a working pastry chef,” Freeman said. “I’m not a clipboard chef. The reason I won is because I was able to work cleanly, finish on time and my flavors were on point.”
Club de Las Campanas executive chef Jake Judd hired Freeman in January 2019, just seven months after he took over the kitchen himself.
“She won because she is incredibly technically proficient,” Judd said. “She is passionate about preparing delicious dishes.”
Freeman was “completely unaware” that she was about to be named New Mexico’s pastry chef of the year for 2022 by the New Mexico chapter of the American Culinary Federation.
“I believe in her,” said Leonard Bailey, president of ACF New Mexico. “I believe she can go the distance. She has the skill level to work at the Broadmoor (in Colorado Springs) and The French Laundry (in Napa Valley). You meet someone like her every once in a while. You see a person like her very rarely.”
Bailey lobbied for Freeman to get the state award.
“That was my first award,” Freeman said. “Leonard said, ‘Just so you know, you can take this national.’ When he put this idea in my head, I immediately rejected it. It took me a full month to think about it.
Freeman also was in no rush to apply for the executive pastry chef position at Club de Las Campanas.
“My mother-in-law told me to apply,” Freeman said. “I completely ignored her.”
But join the club she made. She caught Judd’s attention in a curious way: Judd’s sister-in-law is dating Freedman’s half-brother, son of the mother-in-law who told him to apply for the job.
“She definitely has a very high skill level,” Judd said. “There is attention to detail. She is always trying to hone her talent. Pastry plays a role in every meal service we offer.”
Freeman and two assistants prepare breakfast pastries, serve bread daily, prepare plated gourmet desserts as well as more casual desserts, and prepare pastries for wine dinners, themed dinners , buffets, golf events, weddings and funerals.
The menu changes frequently.
“I’ve always considered baking more of a science than an art,” she said. “Cooking is more of an art. Baking is more rigid. It’s a very logical thing. I like to think logically.”
Measurements need to be precise in baking, she said.
Freeman, 32, grew up in Chicago around his grandmother who made handmade pasta. His high school also had a commercial kitchen for students.
“The baking just clicked, if I remember correctly,” she said. “I have a drawing that I drew when I was 5. I wanted to become a chef.”
She received her culinary training at Kendall College in Chicago, a culinary arts and hospitality management school.
“There were 50 pastry students, and only eight of us graduated,” she says.
She worked two jobs simultaneously in Chicago that pretty much covered the baking spectrum. Freeman was head baker at a small bakery producing croissants, muffins and birthday cakes early in the day, then worked at a Michelin star restaurant later in the day.
“It was hell,” she said. “I worked 16 hours a day. I made the entire range of pastries in one day.”
Freeman’s sister was a student at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Freeman visited 10 years ago and never left, first signing on as a pastry chef at Geronimo, where she is stayed for just under two years, then working as a pastry chef at The Compound, for just under four years.
“I lived in a high-rise in a (horrible) part of Chicago,” Freeman said. “It was quiet in Santa Fe. I’ve never experienced quiet in Chicago.”
Freeman has no plans to leave Club de Las Campanas anytime soon, but she is studying to get a master’s degree in business administration to set the table for eventually opening a burger and soft serve ice cream shop.
Despite her exceptional sense of baking, Freeman said she didn’t dream of owning her own bakery.
“I don’t think I like anything other than soft-serve ice cream,” Freeman said.