Pastry chef extraordinaire and Food Network Challenge host Keegan Gerhard

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Well known among Food Network viewers and professional chefs, this pastry chef/television host finds time between shoots to run his own restaurant, D Bar Desserts. The emcee and judge offers would-be contenders advice.

DENVER, March, 2012 Keegan Gerhard has done 300 shows of Food Network Challenge for 10 years, along with appearances on the Discovery Channel and CNN. He’s now turned his focus to running his own restaurant in Denver, and has plans to open a second D Bar in San Diego this May. D Bar San Diego will be a full-service restaurant with emphasis on Drinks, Dining, AND Desserts. It will feature a vibrant design from Xan Creative who did neighboring AM eatery Snooze, another Colorado native.

“I lived and worked in San Diego for several years and always wanted to go back,” Gerhard says. While working at George’s on the Cove in La Jolla, he learned to appreciate easy access to locally grown ingredients.

The menu in San Diego will resemble the one in Denver. Although a nationally recognized pastry chef and judge, he keeps his menu fun and approachable. Open since 2008, D bar has a Plated dessert menu that includes cake and shake, milk and cookies, booz-flay! and ch ch ch churro! Some of the menu changes with the season; “Last fall we did five varieties of apples ten different ways. I love desserts with apples.”

Another menu is titled Things we like to eat. This one includes Gerhard’s pizza salad sandwich, an invention he came up with while busy in the kitchen. He takes pizza dough, adds some olive oil, pesto and mozzarella cheese. After baking, he throws on some greens tossed with vinaigrette, and folds it into a sandwich; “I didn’t know if anyone would order it but they are.” The kobe slider, s o u t h e r n f r i e d b e l g i a n chicken, and waffle and dates with bacon are other hits; “People like what they know done well. We make it our own, win them over; then next time they might trust me on something crazier.”

Many of guests come because they know this pastry chef from TV. “My favorite thing is people come because other people told them. We have so many regulars now,” Gerhard says, “One thing we didn’t plan, but see, [D Bar Desserts] is a lot of things to a lot of people. It could be two girls after work, a date or a happy birthday. I dream of it becoming part of people’s lifestyles.”

He enjoys being his own boss but might never have done so without his wife, also a pastry chef; “She always wanted a place of her own and pushed me. As long as I worked at the best place I was fine.” Denver was an easy choice for Gerhard due to his love for cycling and the closeness to High Noon Entertainment, the producers of his show. “My passion is cooking and running a restaurant.”

Gerhard, 45, grew up in Germany until the age of 11. “I started cooking to support myself as a cyclist;” He worked as a chef and pastry chef, learning from master pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer. Other positions at high end hotels and restaurants followed: Charlie Trotter’s Restaurant, the Waldorf Astoria, Four Seasons Chicago, and the Wynn Las Vegas.

Before joining the Food Network, Gerhard was an emcee, and later a judge, for the annual National Pastry Competition. As he moved among the top pastry chefs creating amazing plated desserts, cakes, chocolates, and artistic sugar and chocolate sculptures. His ongoing commentary was lively, natural, and informative. He made competitions accessible and appealing to a much wider TV audience. Currently the show airs six days a week, although no new episodes are being filmed.

His television projects would take four to eight days a month, and he spent the rest of his time working. He says he may do more work in the future for television.

FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A HOST AND JUDGE, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE ASPIRING CONTESTANTS?

KG: I have three pieces of advice.

The first is the hardest to follow and requires the most discipline. Ask yourself, Am I really ready?’ You have a cake shop and they call you. Everyone wants that shot.

Here’s how TV people see it, whether you succeed or fail, it’s still a compelling TV moment.

The second is you have to make time to practice the specific event. Cake people have the odd idea they can do anything tomorrow. They want a Nemo cake. You’ve never made it but think, I can draw. I can make it happen.’ They never practice. Some professional teams practice for an entire year before a competition.

Often overlooked, the third piece of advice is you need to know the rules. People lost because their piece was one inch too short. In some competitions the difference between first and fourth place is only five points.

WHAT FOOD RELATED TV SHOW IS YOUR FAVORITE?

KG: After Hours with Daniel Boulud. He gets chefs together with musicians and food writers. They talk and eat.

WHAT ARE THE NEXT FOOD TRENDS AND WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THEM?

KG: Trends are media driven. We love to say what’s a trend and there is a decided battle between modern gastronomy and comfort food. What I think is people are more knowledgeable. They know where food comes from. They get grass fed beef and free range chicken.

I see pastry chefs doing modern napoleons or deconstructed baked Alaskas.

It’s interesting to use the whole animal. That increase the chef’s skill set and you get better quality food.

WHAT FOOD FADS ARE YOU SICK OF?

KG: Sick of cupcake thing. We make cupcakes because people want them, but there are shops not putting more effort than you can make at home. At $3.50, it’s a joke.

Overall you’ve got to work to make it your own. A lot of people are getting tired of pork belly and bacon.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO DINE OUT?

In San Diego, Snooze, an A.M. Eatery . It just opened in Hillcrest. It’s a breakfast and lunch place. Alex Seidel’s Fruition in Denver is brilliant and fun. Butter in New York. Alex Guarnaschelli is the greatest person and hilarious. She’s one of the judges on Chopped.

View Keegan Gerhard’s grandmother’s recipe used for the chocolate frosting in D Bar’s Cake and Shake.

D Bar Desserts

1475 East 17th Avenue Parkway

Denver, CO 80218

(303) 861-4710

www.dbardesserts.com