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Chef OwnerDessert Dreams
Shari Carlson had already earned an associate degree in New York, where she worked in the garment industry. But a move to Texas and subsequent divorce sent her looking for a new career for which she would need more education.
The chef in a restaurant where she worked as a waitress encouraged her to begin working in the kitchen on Saturdays, then recommended El Centro’s chef apprenticeship program. Completing her program apprenticeship at the Dallas Hyatt Regency, she rotated through the hotel’s various culinary areas and found her calling in pastry. After a seven-year career with Hyatt, during which time she was promoted to assistant pastry chef and then pastry chef, she opened her own business, Dessert Dreams, a wholesale bakery in Irving. That same year, she began teaching as an adjunct faculty member in El Centro’s Food and Hospitality Institute.
“The best part of my El Centro experience was all of the people I met there — from the other students to the instructors to the chefs affiliated with the program,” she says. “My education has helped me a lot in my business, not only by the professional connections I've made through the program, but by how I learned in the program. You can learn by rote in a kitchen, but then if a cake falls, you don’t know why it happened. When you learn the physics and the chemical processes behind cooking — why you need to do something a certain way — it sticks in your mind.
“For the money, El Centro is absolutely the best bet. They have wider scope in their classes than other schools, especially in pastry. Plus, their schedule is flexible so that you can work while you’re taking classes if you need to. It’s a great way for career changers like me to take a class and see if they like it. Only about one percent of chefs end up on the Food Channel; that’s not real life. Being a chef is a lot of hot work, but it does have its own rewards.”
Chef Shari Carlson has received numerous honors and awards, including being inducted into the World Master Chefs Society in 1993, being named 1998 Chef of the Year and 2004 Pastry Chef of the Year by the Texas Chefs Association, and taking top honors in culinary competitions around the world. She has participated with the U.S. Navy’s “Adopt-a-Ship” program for several years; has trained and offered externships to many culinary students, including four American Culinary Federation certified pastry apprentices; and with her company, actively participates in fundraising events through her various memberships with charities such as the American Heart Association, Dallas Opera Guild, Dallas Food Bank and Dallas Women’s Shelter. She co-owns Dessert Dreams with her husband, Matthew Melcher, who has also served as an adjunct faculty member of the Food and Hospitality Institute. The wholesale bakery, with its full-time staff of 20, specializes exclusively in desserts, supplying made-from-scratch cakes, pastries and custom desserts for hotels, caterers and restaurants. For information about Dessert Dreams, call 972-313-2138.