Meet Ariana Quant. She’s been entrenched in the restaurant industry since she was a child, helping out at her family’s Chinese restaurant in Lubbock, Texas. Realizing at a young age that pastry was her passion, she moved to New York to study the pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America. While in school, Ariana did her externship at Farallon in San Francisco, with the James Beard Award-winning Chef Emily Luchetti. Later, she moved to in Las Vegas, where she worked at the Maccioni family’s Le Cirque, Hubert Keller’s Fleur de Lys, Alain Ducasse’s miX, 3 Michelin-starred Joël Robuchon, and 1 Michelin-starred L’Atelier Joël Robuchon, where she became the lead Pastry Sous Chef.
Missing Texas, Ariana moved to Austin in 2015 and earned a spot on the Uchiko team. As of November of this year, Ariana was named the Executive Pastry Chef of All Uchi Restaurants (Austin, Dallas, Denver, Houston and soon Miami).
One of the reasons I love the food industry is because food is such a universal language and has the ability to bring people together.
What inspired you to attend culinary school and start a career in the restaurant industry?
I grew up in my family’s small Chinese restaurant in Lubbock, Texas. I spent most of my time as a kid in that restaurant doing homework, watching my parents cook and eventually worked there as a teenager.
Quality time with my parents was usually spent at mealtime since they worked every day, all day. I also used to sit at parties in high school watching Food Network and then attempting to make dishes at home. My life was fully surrounded by food. It felt like a natural decision for me to attend culinary school, despite my father’s strong disapproval. My parents had worked so hard to provide for my sisters and I to have a better life then they had, so he was confused and frustrated when I decided I wanted to willingly work as hard as they had. But they were supportive, nonetheless.
When we started researching colleges, they would only allow me to attend the best, which at the time we felt was The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. They hoped it would be a better jumpstart into what they knew to be a hard industry with traditionally lower wages and exhausting hours. If I ever decided to leave the restaurant industry, I probably would look into doing food photography or opening a B&B. It would have to be something where I could still surround myself with food. One of the reasons I love the food industry is because food is such a universal language and has the ability to bring people together.
What inspires you today to keep innovating in the kitchen?
My team. They push me to challenge myself and to keep things interesting. They’re here to learn and it’s my responsibility to keep them engaged. There is still so much to learn and see in this industry, so staying on top of trends and what other chefs are doing keeps you relevant.
Make yourself undeniable so that no one can tell you otherwise.
What are some challenges you’ve experienced as a female chef?
I’ve experienced not being taken seriously in the kitchen. Who knows if this is because I am a woman, or that I really didn’t have the chops yet. I made it a point to try to fully understand my craft since then. There of course will always be more to learn and techniques and science to dive deeper into, but I feel I have enough understanding that I’ve earned a special place in the kitchen. Make yourself undeniable so that no one can tell you otherwise.
Which skills do you think are imperative for someone looking to make her own name in the culinary world?
Patience, humility, and willingness to teach and continue to learn.
If we had the chance to peek at your schedule, what would an average day look like?
These days you’ll find me with my teams in Austin. Since Covid has grounded me in Austin, it has given me an opportunity to work more closely with my teams here. I like to start my mornings with them. I still enjoy doing AM production, and spending more time in Uchi Austin and Uchiko. It has given me a chance to help my teams hone their skills and work on new desserts with them. It has also given me a chance to see areas for streamlining production. I still check in on the other restaurants regularly with my leads. It’s important to me that although I am unable to travel to them, that they still feel supported and connected. We are always evolving our menus at all our restaurants to keep them interesting, so there is always a daily conversation about what is next with my teams.
I’ll end my day by spending some time on the Expo pass. This where the Chefs are usually found during service orchestrating the kitchen and it is the last checkpoint for dishes before they hit the table. I will also hop around to the stations. It’s important to me that although I don’t stay to the end of service, that the PM team feels my presence in the kitchen and knows that I am there for them. We’ll chat about special dishes they want to work on, that mind blowing ingredient they discovered recently, their families, weekend plans, or just how to perfect their quenelles. The best part of the day is just making those connections and leaving on a high note.
Tell us about your creative process – how did you go about selecting the flavors that you are going to incorporate into a new dessert?
I will often start at the end. It is certainly not the way you are taught to develop dishes, but I am a very visual person. I like to doodle, thumb through books, and will draw creativity from many different outlets.
I am inspired by many things that are not necessarily food related. Inspiration can be found taking a walk, a day at the museum, textures, my current mood, or feelings of nostalgia. I usually have a visualization of a dish and how I want it to look and work backwards. Not always ideal, but it works for me.
Seasonality of ingredients will always determine the flavor palate I am working with. I will always work with 3 ingredients that all complement each other. One of those will often be the curveball ingredient – the one that makes you raise your eyebrow, wonder why it’s in there and why you’ve never thought of that. Once you taste it though, hopefully it makes sense and we’ve enticed the adventurous eater in you.
What is your favorite dessert at Uchi restaurants right now?
The Jasmine Cream. This was the first dessert I put on at Uchiko when I arrived, and it has been on since. It is the one I try to beat with all the new desserts we put on. It’s interesting in textures and palate. Cilantro is most often used as garnish in savory dishes, but here it shines in granita form. It is the one curveball ingredient that you didn’t know you wanted in a dessert and is usually the unassuming dessert that caught you by surprise.
How do you handle work/life balance?
You just have to make it a priority and stick with it. Easier said than done, but how you self-manage your time spent at work will determine how much you sacrifice outside of work. I find some of my days drag out too long and most times I could have prevented it. Staying organized, build daily timelines and deadlines within your morning, and honestly just hustling to get the most out of your day.
I set time frames for myself to accomplish tasks- 20 min for this, 30 min for that, etc. Setting up time parameters for each item on my list helps me stay on task to be most productive. My team is also an important part of this puzzle. If I have trained them properly to be efficient and to get the most out of their day, there is a level of trust that is built, which in turn allows me to feel confident leaving at the end of my day.
We know you are very passionate about reducing food waste, do you have any tips on how us + our readers can also help/get involved with this cause? Do you have any favorite organizations working to eliminate food waste in the country?
We do our best to utilize trim and what normally would be food waste in our restaurants. The kitchen has utilized our brioche crust from our Honey Toast dessert to make ‘furikake’ for sushi pieces, apple peels get dehydrated and turned into powders for sorbet ‘yakumi,’ and most often, we will repurpose what we can to use towards the staff’s family meal.
Nothing edible and in good condition will go to waste. We always consider what waste we will incur before we put on dishes on the menu. Sometimes it even inspires other dishes from that!
Where do you unwind after a long week in Austin?
These days it’s our patio at home. It was our quarantine project since we were unable to go out. We outfitted it with some nice chairs, astroturf and I have since turned my black thumb into a green thumb! It’s a good spot to get some fresh air, unwind, and enjoy a cocktail.