For Scott Fausz, the Road to Alyeska Resort was No Cake Walk
It is impossible to exaggerate the delight of a real chocolate croissant. Cupped warm in your hands, fingers slowly pulling apart the flaky dough, the gentle steam and scent of butter and yeast rising up. Then the first bite with just a hint of deep, dark chocolate wrapped in golden layers of pastry that are somehow simultaneously light and dense. I close my eyes and sigh.
I feel like I’m in Paris, but I’m actually standing in the corner of one of The Resort at Alyeska’s busy kitchens trying to stay out of the way. It’s Sunday morning, and even at 8:00 am the place is a swirl of activity. The first shift kicked off quietly around 4:30, but by this point in the day the action borders on frenetic. The pastry team clocks in, one after another until five chefs are working together to fill orders that have come in overnight, including a banquet for 240 people starting at 6:00 pm.
The order sheets sit in a pile on the counter. The longest one is for Seven Glaciers, the resort’s fine dining restaurant. They need 29 Baked Alyeskas, 15 orders of beignets (3 per order), a gallon of espresso gelato, 3 bags of compressed melon, 1 container of micro flowers, 1 container of Kalamata crystals, 1 container of dehydrated honey, a pint of blackberry rose coulis, and the list goes on. Seven Glaciers is only one of the resort’s on-site restaurants the pastry team is responsible for; and there’s an additional order sheet for each of the other six.
Across the room more orders for banquets and special events hang on clipboards for each day of the week, featuring requests like popcorn panna cotta, carrot cake with coconut mousse, and chocolate pecan tartlets. Add to the mix the needs of room service (milk and cookies! chocolate dipped strawberries!), hundreds of breakfast pastries for the cafes, buffets, and boxed breakfasts, and dozens and dozens of cookies for boxed lunches, tour groups, and special events. This is no lazy Sunday.
Scott Fausz, Alyeska’s executive pastry chef, is the morning DJ. He checks the temperature of the ganache he’s making and then turns up the volume on his iPhone. Katy Perry belts out the day’s soundtrack. “You make me feel like I’m living a teenage dream.”
Back to the Beginning
Growing up poor with a single mom in rural Missouri meant Fausz had to fend for himself and his younger brother after school. He’d often seek solace in an old Betty Crocker cookbook (1970 edition). Just paging through it at first, enjoying the charts and drawings, and then one day deciding to actually try one of the recipes.
Fausz was not your average kid. When he was ten he asked Santa for a frosting piping kit. “I just thought those tips were magical,” he recalls dreamily. This was the early 80s; other kids were saving their allowances to buy Atari cartridges while Fausz was scrounging quarters to score packets of yeast from the corner store.
There were plenty of early kitchen fails, like a doomed batch of after school donuts. He had sought permission on the phone from his mom first, who was not thrilled to know that her son was bringing a large pot of Crisco up to donut-frying temperature. Besides the obvious problems with boiling oil without adult supervision, self-directed baking class wasn’t a normal pre-teen playtime activity.
35 years ago the professional kitchen was a hidden realm. Anthony Bourdain still toiled namelessly behind a stove in New York City. The Pioneer Woman was microwaving Hot Pockets. The only shows on television featuring culinary arts were The Frugal Gourmet and reruns of Julia Child on PBS. Also on television in the 1980s? Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Robin Leach seduced Fausz with his champagne wishes and caviar dreams and left him pining for exotic lo- cales. Brazil, with its over-the-top parties and lavish celebrations, topped the list, and pastry tips and donut recipes were replaced by a desire to jet set. Fausz was in high school now, palling around with an exchange student from Italy. Curious about attending high school in another country, he began exploring the options (staying focused on Brazil). He was eventually accepted into an exchange program his senior year, thanks to some helpful teachers, plenty of leg work, and a scholarship. But instead of basking on the beaches of Rio, he found himself settling into a cozy farmhouse in Lenglern, a tiny village in Lower Saxony, about 20 miles from the East German border. It wasn’t Brazil, but spending his senior year in Germany introduced him to a world of new flavors and customs (he still waxes poetic about the family potato patch), and sparked a lifelong love of travel.
After graduating high school, Fausz packed up his piping kit and his souvenirs from Germany and headed to Phoenix. He started a 5-year interior architecture and design program at the School of Design at Arizona State University studying concepts like color theory and the impact of shape on mood, and took classes in sketching, painting, and rendering. It wasn’t a cake walk. “That kind of art came so easy to others… they’d be able to shade and shadow something with what looked like very little effort, but I really had to practice,” Fausz recalled “I didn’t feel I had a great career ahead of me as a designer because there were things I wasn’t as successful at as I wanted to be–specifically things like drawing.”
What he was successful at was making his classmates happy with a steady flow of sweet treats from his kitchen. “We’d have these long sessions in the studio at night, and I’m feeding people desserts.”
You can picture a somewhat dejected Fausz slumped in his advisor’s office one afternoon in late April of 1995. He confesses that he isn’t sure he is cut out to be a designer; he doesn’t feel like it’s where he wants to be. When his advisor asks him what he’s considering and Fausz tells him he’s thinking about culinary school, it’s no surprise. He counsels Fausz to take a job in a restaurant, however, before leaving a program to which he has already committed almost 4 years.
Anything less than perfection is uncivilized
It was tough to find a kitchen in Phoenix willing to take on a pastry cook with no professional experience. But true to character, Fausz persevered, knocking on doors between classes until he finally landed an entry level position in a golf club kitchen, thanks to some family connections. That first job led to his next gig in the kitchen of the Arizona Biltmore, home of an award-winning pastry chef. Despite his enthusiasm Fausz never made it into the pastry department there, but the work he watched them do captivated him enough to leave ASU for the Culinary Arts program at Scottsdale Community College.
Once there, Fausz began to blossom. “It was the opposite of school for me. You got to bake bread, and cakes!” he recalled. Culinary school also helped him begin building on experiences from his past to shape his future. The comfort he had found in baking, even as a child. The doggedness he nurtured as he fought to become first an exchange student in high school and then to get into those early entry level kitchen jobs. Those difficult years in design school. “My art background became a source of support for me. Even now when we’re coming up with designs for plated desserts I go back to those theories.”
After graduating, Fausz began his professional career in the kitchen of a French chef whose favorite saying was “anything less than perfection is uncivilized.” He rose through the ranks at a series of jobs in Arizona, then went back home for a spell to head the pastry department at Crown Valley, Missouri’s largest winery. After a few years living the rural life near his family, Fausz got restless and hit the road again, finally settling in California and working as an instructor for Le Cordon Bleu.
There he was in 2014, teaching in Hollywood and nursing a broken heart. The Golden West had been good to him (I mean, how many of us can say we’ve seen Cher’s wig collection?) but he was longing for a new adventure. Just when he was about to commit to a position in Turkey, the call came in from Alyeska. Although he had never been to Alaska he accepted the opportunity to come up and visit. The moment he arrived he knew he’d found his new home.
The Bride Whisperer
Three years in and you won’t find a bigger fan of the resort and its staff. Fausz gushes about “the quality of the food, the number of outlets, the amount of food we make from scratch here. The chefs will drive 100 miles to pick up local food, local meat. We get barley from Delta Junction to use in our bread.” He’s pumped about buying local, drawing inspiration from the wilderness around the resort, highlighting what makes Alaska cuisine unique. He raves about Alyeska’s Fiddlehead Festival, their Blueberry Festival (for which he’s aiming to produce 1,000 blueberry pies from scratch), and their infamous “Mushrooms and Martinis” event. When we bump into Seven Glaciers’ Executive Chef Aaron Apling-Gilman on the tram the two grin and hug each other. Later Fausz beams as he describes how he cooks tagines for Apling-Gilman whenever he comes by for dinner.
His enthusiasm for food and friendship is authentic. Fausz delights in discussing cake flavors, fillings, icings, and final touches with bridal couples as they plan their special day. Fresh flowers or spun sugar ribbons? Mocha mousse or raspberry cream cheese? “I’m happy to be there guiding the ship, collecting the details,” he tells me. “When the big day comes I’m in charge of taking the vision that collectively we’ve created and making it happen.”
Fausz has a remarkably calm demeanor for a guy that at times is responsible for crafting as many as six unique wedding cakes in a single weekend. He may describe it as guiding a ship, but it sounds more like commanding an armada.
For many brides (and grooms) the wedding planning process can feel like it is spinning out of control. Fausz often uses the discussion about the cake as a chance for everyone to slow down and reflect on the essence of the ceremony. He encourages people to think back to special desserts they loved as a child or food they’ve enjoyed on their travels. He then works these memories into the layers of a contemporary cake that’s going to not just wow the wedding party, but be a lasting memory of the event for every single guest.
He pauses while telling me about his process, places his hand on his chest, and leans towards me. “I am a person that is deeply governed by my ability to please other people. I am hardwired to be a person who takes care of other people.”
You can boil Scott Fausz down to that one essential ingredient; the desire to make people happy. That desire is a huge part of what keeps brides and grooms flocking to Alyeska Resort year round for weddings both big and small. You can’t control the weather, or the behavior of your new father-in-law, but if you book a wedding at Alyeska, you can count on an amazing cake.
When I ask him about his own dream wedding cake he hesitates. Turns out he’s not a big cake eater. He whips out his phone and scrolls until he gets to an image of cheese wheels, arranged to look like a cake, decorated by a cascade of champagne grapes. His smile says it all.