WILLIAMSBURG — If you order dessert at La Tienda Tapas Bar in Williamsburg, you are tasting a creation made by none other than high school senior, Anne Ryan Gareis.
Head Chef and owner Greg Mincher and co-owner MeLaina Mincher invited her onto their team to help work on their dessert menu.
MeLaina, who was Gareis’ A.P. English teacher during her junior year of high school, knew about the high school senior’s passion for baking.
“They’ve been so generous just letting me put some of my own original desserts on the menu,” Gareis said. “It’s been a great experience.”
Gareis said that she has been baking for as long as she can remember. Starting out making brownies and chocolate chip cookies, her baking skills began to take off into a more frequent activity in middle and high school.
During quarantine, she began making creative, original recipes for neighbors and friends, leading Gareis to start her own home-based business called Tiger Bites Bakes.
The home bakery donates a percentage of the profits to tiger conservation efforts.
Along with attending her senior year of high school and running her own business, Gareis works part time at La Tienda, which she said all balances out in her schedule surprisingly well.
“When I started there, I didn’t have any experience in the restaurant industry,” she said. “And of course all the chefs there are career chefs and they’ve been doing it for a long time, and they’re amazing at savory cooking and pastries, so I was practicing a lot under their wing and their attention.”
The pastry menu has recently fallen completely under Gareis’ jurisdiction, which means she can continue to express her culinary creativity.
For William & Mary’s spring graduation this year, La Tienda was both busy and booked.
Gareis, who will be attending William & Mary in the fall, wanted to add something special to the menu in honor of her future alma mater.
“I started thinking about if I should try to replicate a feeling at William and Mary, or a specific building, or the Sunken Garden, or something. And then I eventually settled on doing something with green and gold colors,” she said.
Gareis created a miniature version of an Entremet, which is a visually stunning French dessert with creamy elements, such as a mousse.
Wanting to give the dessert a Spanish twist, Gareis added Saffron for its gold color. For green, she decided on Key Lime Curd. She played off the tropical flavors by making a base of a coconut cake, and then continued the Key Lime pie theme by adding a graham crumble.
“It started with wanting to do something for William & Mary and as I got an idea for one color it just snowballed into more and more elements,” she said. “I thought it ended up being a really nice and unique dessert.
While the William & Mary Entremet dessert was only available during graduation weekend, Gareis is constantly creating new and original recipes.
Currently, her favorite recipe is the Burnt Basque Cheesecake, which originated in Spain. It differs from New York-style cheesecake as it is crustless. Instead, the high temperature it is baked at forms a caramelized exterior that serves as the crust.
Served with homemade almond brittle and a mixed berry coulis, Gareis said that it is perfect for the season.
“We usually do not have a written desert menu, which is nice because that way it leaves more room for creativity and for more special desserts to pop up for a weekend or a week,” she said.
Gareis said that she will likely continue to work at La Tienda part-time while she is attending William & Mary in the fall, where she hopes to study business and French.
Does studying business mean that Gareis will open up her own bakery one day?
“That’s definitely a goal for me,” she said. “You know with the food and beverage industry, there’s so many routes you can go down.”
“I’m just really appreciative to Greg and MeLaina for this opportunity and they have been so generous to allow me to come into La Tienda,” she added. “It can be really difficult to break into the restaurant industry and have people respect what you’re doing and they’ve just totally opened all those doors for me.”
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