After growing up as an Air Force brat, Megan Williams could have picked anywhere to call home. Luckily for us, and for our taste buds, she chose Nashville! She is the pastry chef at Etch, and we are amazed again and again by her creativity and superb execution of some of the best desserts to grace any plate in this foodie city. Today, we welcome Megan as our FACE of Nashville.
When did you start baking, and how did you make a career out of it?
My grandmother taught me to bake when I was very young. We’d make pies, layer cakes, buttermilk biscuits. I wanted to go to culinary school, but I went to UT-Knoxville instead and majored in journalism. After I graduated, I moved to Nashville and got a job at Williams-Sonoma so I could make money while looking for journalism jobs. I also did some freelance reporting, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was very bored by most of my assignments. I spent a lot of my free time baking bread and desserts, and I would read any baking book I could get my hands on. One day I decided to look for a baking job. I went to Provence, and they hired me. I think I knew my first week that I wanted to become a pastry chef. I proved myself by scooping hundreds and thousands of cookies and scones, and the pastry chefs there were all great teachers for me. I got very lucky stumbling on that job.
What is the best part of working for Deb Paquette?
Deb is a creative genius, and I’ve learned a lot from her about combining flavors in ways I wouldn’t have thought of before. Her personality is the best, though. She is funny and also incredibly kind. She always surprises me with funny little gifts, like bobble-head animals to decorate the kitchen or little tiaras for me and the other girls to dress up in. She keeps everyone laughing all the time with jokes and stories or just doing funny voices.
Besides Etch, where do you like to go for a great dinner and great service?
Provence and Etch are known for delicious creations, but they are very different establishments. Tell us about your transition from one to the other.
After I’d been at Provence for a while, I moved to New York for about six months. While I was there I worked at Mesa Grill, and that was my first exposure to being a restaurant pastry cook. I hated it at first. The change of pace was very intimidating, and line cooks and chefs were equally scary. Once I got used to it I liked it a lot. When I moved home to Nashville, I went back to Provence for a year and a half and then went to the Hermitage Hotel. That was kind of like running a bakery and a restaurant pastry kitchen. You do a little of everything. At Etch I get to focus only on desserts and bread for the restaurant. I think my time at the bakery and the hotel both made me a better chef because I know how to deal with high volume. We’re so busy at Etch, so that comes in very handy!
Do you ever eat at Etch as a patron and listen to what people are saying about the food?
I love going to eat at Etch! I like to watch people’s reactions when they get their food and after they taste it. Our job is to make people happy with food, so it’s fun to see them enjoying it.
What cookbooks would you recommend to someone trying to become a better baker?
If you could have another job for a day, what would it be?
That is a tough question. When I was a kid I wanted to be an archaeologist. You know, like Indiana Jones. It would be fun to try that, but only if there were no snakes there. Snakes are a deal breaker.
Where is a favorite escape for you in Nashville?
What is a valuable piece of advice you have been given?
Don’t ever burn bridges.
Do have any exciting plans for the rest of summer?
I’m going on a trip to a resort in Panama with my sister! She works for Sterling Jewelers, and she won a trip for being one of their top general managers. We haven’t gotten to travel together since college, so I’m really looking forward to it. In August, I’m going to take a four-day pastry class in Chicago at the French Pastry School to learn some new techniques for plated desserts. And in September, my husband and I are going to California to celebrate our one-year anniversary, so I have a pretty exciting summer ahead!
What books are on your bedside table?
You can usually find cookbooks on my bedside table, on the couch, on the dining room table … You get the idea. I’m obsessed with reading cookbooks. Otherwise I read mostly fiction. Right now I’m reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Before that I read The Goldfinch, which was so good I didn’t want to start a new book after it was over. My favorite authors of all time are John Irving and David Sedaris.
Do you have any irrational fears?
I’m terrified of snakes. I won’t go anywhere near them, even in the zoo, and I always look to make sure there’s not a snake in the toilet before I sit down. I know that sounds weird, but I’ve met several other people who have the same fear.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Burt’s Bees Pomegranate lip balm, chocolate and good bread. Also my cat, but I think she counts as family.
Special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s FACES photos. For more of Ashley’s work, click here.
And to find out more about what makes Megan love Nashville, pick up a copy of this month’s Nashville Lifestyles! nashvillelifestyles.com