As a fine arts major, Gale Gand '81 studied metal sculpting and specialized in silver and goldsmithing. But she's earned critical acclaim in a different field of art. Gand has carved a stellar career as a pastry chef.
As co-owner of Tru, a top-rated Chicago restaurant, Gand has a high-profile showcase for her work. The co-author of three cookbooks with two more in the works, she reaches an even bigger audience through her show, Sweet Dreams, which airs Monday through Saturday on the cable television Food Network.
Gand began her career in the kitchen during her college years. As an art student at the Cleveland Institute of Art, she attended a guest lecture by metal artist Albert Paley and was so impressed that she followed him to RIT. But changing schools caused a year-long interruption in her studies, and she went to work in the restaurant business and traveled and dined in France for the first time.
After receiving her degree from RIT, she set up a studio, but, she says, "It became clear to everybody that my passion for cooking was greater than my passion for fine art." For a time she did both, but ultimately the kitchen consumed her. At the Strathallan, a Rochester hotel, she met her mentor, chef Greg Broman, and her future business partner, Rick Tramonto.
"All my love of visual arts transferred into food," she says. She understood that food — especially desserts — should look as wonderful as they taste, and her art training proved to be excellent preparation.
"It's really all the same — understanding design, composition, line, color, balance." In 1985, Gand and Tramonto went to work at the Gotham Bar & Grill in New York City, where her desserts received three stars from The New York Times. They spent three years in charge of cuisine at Stapleford Park hotel outside London, and earned acclaim from critics. Back in Gand's hometown, Chicago, they operated three restaurants — Trio, Brasserie T and the Vanilla Bean Bakery — before teaming up with restaurant impresario Rich Melman on Tru. Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc., helped Gand and Tramonto build their dream restaurant. Since opening night in 1999, the rave reviews have poured in — from Food Arts magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and International Herald Tribune as well as the Chicago press. Last year, Gand won the Dolce Outstanding Pastry Chef Award at the annual James Beard Awards.
Gand's TV career began with guest appearances on Sara's Secrets, the popular Food Network show hosted by Sara Moulton, executive editor of Gourmet magazine. Gand was stunned when she was offered a show of her own. "There are thousands of people who would love to do this," she knows. "But it's the story of my life: Things just fall in my lap."
It's not quite that easy, of course. Gand juggles a schedule that includes traveling to New York City to tape TV shows, writing cookbooks, producing her own root beer, managing a staff of six in the restaurant pastry kitchen, and raising a 6-year-old son, Giorgio. She continues to find the work deeply satisfying.
"There's a strange sort of communion in what I do," she explains. "The power of food to connect people is so strong. At the restaurant, people choose us to celebrate special moments, anniversaries, getting engaged — things they'll always remember. It's such a privilege, and we take that very seriously."
The University Magazine, Winter 2002