The one thing that I would like to be known for in this industry is creating a positive and healthy work environment. I think that's something that in kitchens, often gets lost because of the high demands and stress.
If anyone was born to bake, it’s Amanda Pallagi-Naim, executive pastry chef at Four Seasons Hotel Austin. Raised in McAllen, Texas, Amanda says it was her grandmother who initially inspired her culinary passion.
“She was from Georgia and loved to bake; so, I started joining her in the kitchen regularly around eight or nine years old.”
This early interest turned into a full-fledged business in high school where Amanda would combine her cooking skills with a natural craftiness and entrepreneurial spirit. She would come up with packages for Valentine’s Day that included decorative containers of baked goods and sell them to teachers in the teacher’s lounge. Soon, word spread and she was doing brisk business selling cookies to other students and friends.
At 16, Amanda got her official start in the restaurant industry as a dessert prep cook at City Café in McAllen, a counter café. The owners let her experiment making her own cakes, and a few turtle cheesecakes, strawberry shortcakes and Italian cream cakes later, they were convinced of her talent and gave her creative freedom to produce all of the café’s in-house desserts.
Despite loving it there – and the owners’ generous offer to foot the bill for culinary school – college and the allure of Austin soon came calling. At 18, Amanda began pursuing her bachelors in Business Administration at St. Edwards University in the Texas capital.
“I thought I wanted to go into restaurant management,” says Amanda, who worked part-time for the university’s food concessionaire in between classes.
Following graduation, a connection at Four Seasons Hotel Austin helped her get an interview for a hostess position in the hotel’s newly launched restaurant, TRIO. She fell in love with the inner workings of the pastry shop. She was drawn back to the kitchen all the time, knowing it’s what she wanted to do.
Though unaware of Amanda’s innate talent, the executive pastry chef at the time encouraged her to attend the French Pastry School in Chicago, an intense curriculum covering all of the basics of pastry. Amanda signed up for the course and was on a flight to Chicago the next month.
In October 2009, Amanda transferred from the front-of-the-house to the hotel’s pastry department as a cook. The basics she’d learned in Chicago were quickly supplemented with new skills that only furthered her excitement for the craft.
Over the next five years, Amanda took on increasing levels of responsibility, establishing herself as a right-hand woman to executive pastry chef Javier Franco while earning her own accolades both in the media and at the Hotel. When Javier transferred to Four Seasons Resort Santa Barbara in late-2015, Amanda was a natural pick to fill the head pastry role.
In her element and with the help and support of a small but mighty and talented team of six, Amanda and crew produce thousands of pastries, breads, desserts and cakes each week for Ciclo, which replaced TRIO in 2018, as well as for Live Oak, banquet events and in-room dining.