Café des Architectes at Sofitel Chicago Water Tower
Leigh Omilinsky became Executive Pastry Chef of Sofitel Chicago in 2012. In her role, she oversees the hotel’s entire pastry program including private dining, amenities and the plated desserts at Café des Architectes and Le Bar. She also collaborates with Executive Chef Greg Biggers to produce cheese, preserves and charcuterie for Sofitel’s in-house production concept, Chestnut Provisions. With her career on the fast track, Omilinsky was awarded the 2012 Jean Banchet award for Rising Pastry Chef and named one of Zagat’s 30 Under 30 in 2013. She was also recently recognized with the Jean Banchet award for Pastry Chef of the Year for 2013.
An enthusiast of the slow food movement, Omilinsky values the true nature of seasonal ingredients and incorporates this philosophy in her baking. “I love the art of perfecting seemingly simple things, and this comes through the use of quality ingredients,” she says. Omilinsky’s acclaimed dishes, which change seasonally, currently include the Pistachio Sponge Cake with compressed pear, preserved lemon ice cream and spice; the Valrhona Chocolate Sphere with almond praline mousse, black raspberry and cocoa nibs; and the Pineapple Vacherin with Tahitian vanilla, meringue and Greek yogurt. Omilinsky has also created the restaurant’s Dessert Degustation, consisting of mini tastings of her top confections.
Growing up in Chicago’s north suburbs, her childhood dream of becoming a jazz piano player quickly changed after a pivotal moment in San Francisco. Dining at the famous Top of the Mark restaurant with her family, ten-year-old Omilinsky ordered crème brûlée for the first time. Stunned by its simplicity and delivery of flavor, she had found her passion. This led to a new hobby of baking enthusiastically supported by her mother. Hooked, Omilinsky spent her teenage years working at bakeries and watching Julia Child and Jacques Pepin on television, preparing for a career in the pastry arts.
In 2002 she moved to Denver, Colorado to attend Johnson & Wales University, earning a double degree in Baking and Pastry Arts and Food Service Management. An externship at the Lodge at Koele and Manele Bay in Lanai, Hawaii was followed by a return to Denver to work at the JW Marriott. In 2006 she ventured back to Chicago, where she went to work for James Beard award winning chefs Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand; first at Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood as the lead pastry cook and then at 4 star TRU restaurant as pastry tournant.
Enamored with the fine dining environment, Omilinsky moved on to Michelin-rated L2O restaurant in 2009, working under celebrated chef Laurent Gras. In her role as chef de partie she developed an unwavering eye for detail and a demand for perfection all around. “Everything from a perfectly clean kitchen to a perfectly executed technique….these principles still guide me in my role as executive pastry chef today,” she says.