Laura Jerina-Potts, Thyme Table’s pastry chef, can attest that a delectable dessert takes time to perfect. Take the vegan panna cotta for example: with a raw chocolate almond date crust and a lemon coconut and blackberry panna cotta, it took four iterations for Jerina-Potts to get it just right.
“Vegan desserts are a newer thing for me,” she says. “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of doing a little more research and detective work.”
Born and raised in Bay Village, Jerina-Potts moved to Pennsylvania in 2001 to enroll in the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts. She’s since worked in numerous upscale eateries and prepared tasty dishes for customers in Baltimore and Wisconsin.
Three years ago, when she moved back to Cleveland with her family, Mike Smith, a former friend from high school, asked Jerina-Potts to help with Thyme Catering Co. Months later, he offered her the role of a lifetime: head pastry chef at Thyme Table, his first restaurant in Cleveland.
“This was my opportunity to check something off my list that I always wanted to do,” Jerina-Potts says. “I get to create my own hours, the entire menu from nuts to bolts and it’s just so fun to be a part of a project that’s in my hometown.”
Since taking on the role, Jerina-Potts has been hard at work creating desserts that are colorful, complex and multifaceted. From a banana bread brookie with cardamom bruleed banana, chai chocolate sauce and vanilla bean ice cream to a vibrant, gorgeously plated grapefruit poppyseed cake with white chocolate grapefruit cream, white chocolate mousse, citrus caramel sauce and almond brittle, each dessert is designed down to the smallest detail.
“Believe it or not, I’ve already made notes for the summer menu,” Jerina-Potts says. “I’m just always asking, ‘What can I do to make myself better? What can I learn more of?’ That’s how I can grow and get better at my art.”
For Jerina-Potts, desserts are as an important part of the meal as any other course, and it’s that icing on the cake that makes the fine dining experience rich for guests. Taking great care with her creations, she aims to be not only inclusive but versatile with different flavors and ingredients, including experimenting with vegan options for customers.
“It brings me so much joy when people eat something of mine and they say, ‘That’s the best thing I’ve ever had,’ ” Jerina-Potts says. “Those smiles, the cheers from folks, that’s what really warms my heart.”
If you enjoyed this story, dig in to the rest of May's Best Restaurants issue below.
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