FACES of Nashville: Juanita Lane

Juanita Lane 1Juanita Lane is the award winning chef and owner of Dulce Desserts, located in Edgehill Village. With an Ivy League degree in European History and Russian Language Literature, and postgraduate work at Pushkin Institute in Moscow when it was still the USSR, this smart gal finally found her perfect professional destination, in the kitchen, when she opened up shop in 2006.

Where were you born and how did you make it to Nashville?

I was born in Chattanooga – I’m a GPS Girl. I lived in NYC after college, then a medium-sized industrial company brought me here to start their export division. I was about 23 and a straight commission salesperson. It was my school of hard knocks MBA program.

How did Dulce Desserts come to be?

My last “normal” job was as a national sales manager for a Fortune 500 company related to the automotive industry. My company was experiencing a lot of problems, and I knew it was time for me to do something different with my life. And…my boss was harassing me. A manager of several independent restaurants had asked me to be a secret spy for them since I knew a lot about food. When I gave him one of my family’s secret recipe pear cheesecakes for a  holiday gift, he actually said to me, ”What is wrong with you? Why are you not a pastry chef?” I started baking for him on Sundays, even while I was in the process of leaving my corporate job. I knew there was an opportunity for supplying to restaurants that did not have an on-site pastry chef and started thinking that there might be some need for new dessert blood in Nashville.

I am not classically trained, but did take a couple of “graduate” classes at Notter School of Pastry in Orlando about making wedding cakes and doing sugar flowers. They never asked if I had been to pastry school, and I never mentioned it. I found myself taking classes with executive pastry chefs from around the country, including those from Ritz-Carleton properties, and I realized I had a weird, untapped natural talent for decorating as well as doing the deliciousness.

I came home from one class, put a second mortgage on my house, found a new area called Edgehill Village that had not yet started development and gave them a deposit. That was in April, and we were open in December of 2006. I was a single mom and basically went all in, celebrity poker style.

We know you believe in using only decadent ingredients; can you describe one of your creations that oozes decadence?

If decadent means butter, then yes we are. At Thanksgiving we make a pecan pie cake that includes a layer of pecan pie filling spread in vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream and pecans on the outside. Our coconut cream pie is made with homemade pastry cream, whipped cream and toasted coconut with a macadamia nut crust. Oddly enough, I love fruit and really don’t like either coconut or pecan, but I understand the deliciousness quotient.

Is there a chef or baker whom you admire for their creativity?

In Nashville, Leland Riggan of Dessert Designs set the bar a long time ago for quality. I always look at new ideas from Ron Ben Israel in New York – I took a class with him several years ago and just love his work and use of color. As far as creativity, I work with an unbelievably talented group of non-cake professionals including planners, florists and caterers in the wedding industry who ask us to do things that push our boundaries. Nashville is lucky to have the talents of Amos Gott, Kristen Winston, Monica Holmes, Sara Fried, Meredith Zeller, Jennifer Byler, Hillary Yeager, Terry White and many, many others who do such quality work every week. And more often than not, our clients bring ideas to the table and we LOVE finding ways to make their dream cakes come true.

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Do you have a mentor or adviser?

I would not have survived if not for Dan and Ellen Einstein of Sweet 16th bakery in East Nashville, Monica Holmes at Clean Plate Club, Chef Elaine Taubin who used to be at Loews Vanderbilt Plaza, the planner Helen Morrisette and Jennifer Byler who is now with the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Is there a piece of advice you’ve received that stuck with you?

Amy Kurland, who started the Bluebird and has been a longtime friend, told me it would take 5 years to make the store work, and she was correct to the day. In times of distress, my mantra was “Amy Kurland said it would be 5 years and it will be OK.” She was right.

This was especially true when the economy crashed and we had 3 dark days when the phone did not ring at all.

What are some of your favorite restaurants in Nashville?

My husband and I love eating in the bar of F. Scotts as our neighborhood date spot. I always love City House – anything Tandy does is great with me. After working in the food business all day, I like simple, delicious, easy: Kien Giang, blvd, Bombay Palace, Woodlands … obviously we love international and local.

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Is there a non-Dulce Desserts dessert in Nashville that sends you through the roof?

The pastry chef at City House has done consistently delicious desserts for a while now. And I love the Crème Brulee Napoleon at Park Café. Embarrassingly enough, I LOVE rice krispie treats from Granny White Market and cannot have Mayfield (I am from Chattanooga) Ice cream sandwiches in the house. In some Proustian sense, childhood favorites are always the best.

Nashville is on everyone’s radar screen these days. What are some things that you’re excited about in Music City?

Nashville’s current “hotness” has made it a popular spot for destination weddings and it is such a pleasure to meet couples who are so excited to be here for their special day. We have new, fabulous venues such as the Bridge Building that are inspiring us in the event business to do new, fantastic receptions and parties.

Do you have any irrational fears?

I am a pastry chef: we stress about every permutation of anything that could happen. Last year we delivered a buttercream cake for Amos Gott to Belle Meade Plantation on a Friday afternoon in 117 degree heat. I was completely obsessed that the musicians would leave the doors open during load in and that the facility would not be cool enough for us when we arrived.

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My staff and I have all been back to the store in the middle of the night worried that we did not turn off the oven, forgot to lock the door, etc. We are not the healthiest people on the planet.

Also, 1970’s devil movies–ugh. I can’t sleep at all if I see even a hint of Rosemary’s Baby.

Do you have a favorite musical artist?

Old school R&B, and I have an embarrassing middle-aged crush on Mumford and Sons. I liked them before they were super-popular, and my husband is aware of my infatuation.

Name 3 things you can’t live without (excluding God, family and friends).

Can’t live without: My unbelievable, talented, beautiful hardworking staff, fried okra and unsweet tea. I gave up Diet Coke a year or so ago, but caffeine is going to be on my list for a long, long time.

Thank you, Juanita! Be sure to stop by Dulce Desserts in Edgehill Village: www.dulcedesserts.com

And thank you to Ashley Hylbert for the fabulous photos each week in StyleBlueprint’s FACES series. To see more of Ashley’s work, or to contact her, please see: www.ashleyhylbert.com.