Joy Williams has what must be the most perfect name for a pastry chef. “Yeah, my mom likes to crack the joke that I bring joy to others through my desserts,” says Williams, the newly appointed executive pastry chef of Troy Guard’s restaurant empire.
Even as a kid, Williams was drawn to pastry, often in the form of picking up ingredients for brownies at the grocery store. But she didn’t realize she could make a career out of baking until she was three years into a psychology degree at CU-Denver. She turned in her books, took a summer and a semester off, and enrolled at Johnson & Wales.
Since studying baking and pastry arts at Johnson and Wales and Alain Ducasse’s École Nationale Supérieure de Pâtisserie in France, the Denver native’s career has had a wide reach, from Frasca Food and Wine and now-shuttered Grand Lux Café to Charcoal and ChoLon. Most recently, she worked as the executive pastry chef for Frank Bonanno’s restaurant group.
Williams will bring her sweet touch to all the eateries under the TAG Restaurant Group banner, but she’s tackling Guard & Grace first with a new menu that rolls out today. One of her pet peeves is desserts driven by the chef, not the pastry chef (aka the dreaded crème brûlée, molten lava cake, bread pudding trifecta). “See those and you instantly know it’s a chef’s dessert menu and nothing is going to be mind-blowing,” she says.
That won’t be the case with any of Williams’ menus, even when you do see crème brûlée listed. Williams’ play on the classic includes a free-standing toasted coconut custard topped with vanilla-roasted pineapple, passion fruit sorbet, and a thin disk of hard caramel that mimics the iconic caramelized sugar shell. “It’s crème brûlée but on my terms,” she says. Before heading to Guard & Grace to give that treat a taste, read on for three more things you didn’t know about Joy Williams:
On music in the kitchen…My favorite thing to do is listen to the John Williams station on Pandora. He’s the composer of “Star Wars” and other movies [including “E.T.,” the first three Harry Potter flicks, and “Jaws”]. Usually I work alone and I like to listen to epic movie scores while I work because it makes you feel like what you’re doing is the most important thing. Outside of the kitchen, it’s a lot of the “Moana” soundtrack with Lila [her one-and-a-half year old daughter].
On positive reinforcement…I really love to watch people eat the desserts I make. I like seeing that moment when the dish hits the table and see them oooh or ahhh (hopefully!). I get to feed off their excitement and know I’ve contributed to their meal.
On favorite foods…I’m an ice cream fiend. I consider it my specialty because it’s where my heart is. Rather than going out for dessert, I would almost always rather go out for a scoop. I’ll order anything with coconut in it—that’s far and away my favorite flavor—or coffee.