It says a lot about Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta’s Executive Pastry Chef Lasheeda Perry '08 that her Instagram handle is @misschefsmileypants. (“Smiling never goes out of style,” reads her bio page motto.)
The first thing she does when she’s introduced as JWU Providence’s 182nd Distinguished Visiting Chef (DVC) by interim Dean Susan Marshall is to give shoutouts to her favorite instructors in the audience: “Hi, Chef Stamm! Hi, Chef Alexander! Hi, Chef Miscovich!” Whenever a student asks her a question, she beams: “Great question, yay!” Her high-wattage smile is present even when she’s concentrating on plating up her demonstration dessert, a coconut tres leches cake with ube (purple yam) ice cream and a macadamia crunch tuile.
Much of Perry’s advice to students addresses leadership in the kitchen. She leads a growing pastry team in Atlanta; together, they are responsible for all desserts and pastries served at the hotel, including restaurant/bar menus, catering, room service and banquets. It’s a lot to juggle, but Perry, smile undimmed, admits it’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make for her career: “It’s like anything: You get out what you put into it.”
Hotels are a place where you can try a bit of everything.”
When designing desserts, Perry starts with a flavor profile first, then fine-tunes the details. She’s all about putting pops of color on the plate, and making sure there are plenty of contrasts. The tres leches cake, for example, doesn’t truly come alive until its complementary flavors and textures — in this case, a tart mango gel, a royal purple ice cream and a crunchy nut tuile — are present. (Purple is definitely a signature color.)
Part of her process includes creating staple or foundational elements that can be cross-utilized — like a sponge cake that can be batched in quantities for the week. She adds, “I always make sure to have recipes that can be executed by everyone on my team.” She makes sure to get everyone involved in menu development: “I start by asking, ‘What ideas do you have?’ I respect their opinions and they know they have creative input.”
She thrives on the curveballs involved in hotel work, from over-the-top showpieces to unicorn donuts. “The pastry department is the Band-Aid of the hotel. I frequently get calls from housekeeping or the spa: ‘Hey! I need something special to give to a guest.’”
At 32, Perry is younger than most of her team — if anything, that spurs her to be the best leader she can be. “I always want my staff to come to work and be happy,” she notes. She excitedly announces that she’s just hired her first JWU grad: “She’s from Denver and she has a great sense of urgency in the kitchen.”
A student asks how she found the Four Seasons job. “Easy!” she replies. “Here! I went to a job fair and I was being indecisive — I didn’t know if I wanted to do cakes or pastries or fine dining. Someone recommended that I look into hotels, because they’re a place where you can try a bit of everything.”
JWU also played a role in Perry’s appearance on the Food Network’s “Sweet Genius” in 2012. “I turned on the show and thought, ‘I can do that!’ Around the same time, [JWU Providence] Chef Christina Harvey’s best friend was asked to be on the show. She declined, but she recommended me.” Perry ended up winning the season.
This May, Perry will return to the Food Network as one of 9 bakers competing on the second season of “Best Baker in America.” (Fellow alum Joshua John Russell '01 will serve as a guest judge.) What happens after that is anyone’s guess: “You have to leave room in your heart for the unimaginable!”
UPDATE: While Perry did not win the season, she made it all the way to the finale. She had this to say about competing: “I want to give a heartfelt thank you to everyone who took this journey with me on Best Baker in America Season 2! 💜 💜 The love and support that I’ve received is priceless!” Ube-colored hearts and smiles all the way!
Follow Lasheeda Perry on Instagram.