Just desserts for a backwoods boy-turned master chef
Even his school counselor laughed at Marshall Faye's dream of baking. Now the master chef has the last laugh.
By the time he was 12 he could hunt, skin, and butcher dinner for his family. But what Marshall Faye really wanted to do was knead, roll, and bake sweet treats.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"When I told my friends I wanted to be a pastry chef, they told me baking was for girls, and laughed," Mr. Faye recalls with his trademark burly exuberance. "My high school guidance counselor told me to stop joking around."
Cooking and baking weren't considered appropriate for boys of the 1950s, especially sons of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, a wild region so named because once upon a time the locals yearned to form their own nation. It was a rugged place where children brought their deer hunting rifles to school. Faye was no exception.
But it's Faye who has the last laugh now. He's reached the gooey heights of pastry perfection – royalty of sorts in the world of haute cuisine. Gourmet magazine, Bon Appétit, Saveur, and Country Journal have all featured him. And once, on a home shopping network he sold, in mere minutes, hundreds of his linzertortes – his signature creation for the Trapp Family Lodge here, where he's been the executive pastry chef for the past three decades.
• • •
All eyes are on Faye as he leads his Wednesday class for would-be bakers at the lodge. The master chef still looks as if he'd be just as comfortable pursuing bear through dense Vermont forests, or snagging smallmouth bass in Lake Champlain as he plunges his large hands into a crumbly concoction that will become cranberry and white chocolate chip cookies.
"My grandmother made the best brownies, fudge, and cookies," he says, explaining the provenance of his talent. "It wasn't unusual to make things all fresh. You couldn't just go down to the store and buy a candy bar."
And people certainly didn't just go buy a pound of hamburger meat to pound into meatloaf, he says. Dinner had to be caught. Faye remembers how he and other children would skip school during deer season because families relied on what they could hunt.
That kind of upbringing made it all the more unlikely Faye would ultimately spend his days turning out tea cookies and maple cream pies. But he'd spent years by his mother's side, absorbing little tricks that now allow him to know with just a glance whether bread dough will rise or fall.
Faye grew up close to the earth and close to his parents. The ninth-generation Vermonter inhabited the kitchen with equal fervor as he inhabited the outdoors. "My mother and grandmother were bakers, and I sort of picked it up that way," Faye says. "My mother was in a wheelchair and, so, I did all the cooking."
Faye has his mentor and friend the late Fred Mould to thank for turning his passion into a profession. Faye spent a lot of time in the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, where Mr. Mould was a curator. It was Mould who told the boy to reach for the pie in the sky.
While attending the Culinary Institute of America in New Haven, Conn. (now in Hyde Park, N.Y.), Faye scraped together tuition by washing glasses in a bar, peddling milk for a dairy, and even clocking in time as a security guard. Although he did train as a pastry chef, landing such a job upon graduation was difficult in the 1960s. "At the time, it was deemed women's work," Faye says.