Behind the Sweets: Hetty Arts Makes Chocolate Cassava Cake at The Refinery

[Photographs: Amber Gibson]

Pastry Chef Hetty Arts might not be on everyone's radar (I certainly hadn't heard of her until recently), but this Dutch dessert whiz has an impressive pedigree. She was at Eleven Madison Park before making sweets at Seasons (the former Michelin-starred restaurant at Chicago's Four Seasons Hotel) and most recently at Untitled, where she worked with The Refinery's executive chef, Lawrence Letrero. Untitled was Arts' first executive pastry position and she enjoyed working with Letrero so much that she joined him to open The Refinery.

Arts grew up on dairy farms in Holland and then moved to Ohio with her family when she was 13. She remembers having a wicked sweet tooth as a kid, so it's only natural that she pursued a career in pastry. "I particularly loved sweets growing up," she says. "Seeing what type of cake I'd have would be what I would get most excited about for my birthday."

Her sister loved baking when they were kids and Arts would be her sous chef. "She was very demanding," Arts remembers. "Once I accidentally over whipped cream into butter and it was supposed to be for éclairs, so we couldn't use it." Now, her sister is a florist and Arts is the one who makes delectable sweets.

"Plating is a big part of my dessert at The Refinery," Arts says. "It has to taste good, but I want it to look good, too." Each of her desserts has several components, combining familiar flavors in a unique approach. This echoes Chef Letrero's cooking on the savory side.

"Some places don't have pastry chefs but do their own pastries," Arts says. "And it becomes a grey area. Savory chefs come up with some really weird ideas for desserts... lots of bacon and fried foods. I don't use things that people haven't heard of." Well, except for cassava.

I went into the kitchen with Hetty to see how she puts together The Refinery's chocolate cassava cake. Check it all out in the slideshow.