Krista Owens remembers the first time she saw baked Alaska blazing away in her childhood dining room. One could say that flaming dessert sparked a passion for pastry that grew and grew, eventually culminating in her current position as the new executive pastry chef for Loews Ventana Canyon resort.
Owens — who once made desserts for the now-defunct Ventana Room — is a straight-talker who throws down 80-hour work weeks without blinking. She’s that kind of chef, the kind who would “rather make 10 pans of brownies than waste two hours on my computer.” It appears to pay off. Her desserts are amazing, and people are crazy about them.
Consider the homemade ice cream, sorbet and gelato she’s churning out. The flavors change regularly, but recently she’s been making versions with Ibarra chocolate; Queen Creek olive oil and blueberries; and prickly pears harvested from the resort grounds. She also makes a banana-bread ice cream she uses for banana splits.
About those banana splits...
They’re made with the aforementioned ice cream, Ibarra fudge, pecan blondies spiked with Meyer’s rum, caramelized bananas and cocoa-nib streusel. Owens smirked a little when asked to repeat that to make sure I got it all. She’s not the type to gloat — in fact, she’s the picture of humility - but one can tell she knows exactly how good her desserts are.
Owens’ training began in an ABCO Foods grocery store when she was 18 — she filled in for the cake decorator to avoid getting stuck behind the deli case — and continued at mom-and-pop bakeries and high-end joints like the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. Eventually she headed back to the Southwest, where she worked at the Ventana Room until it closed in 2009.
From there it was off to Pittsburg, Penn., to help open the local-food oriented restaurant Spoon — “We made a lot of things with berries,” she says - and then back to Tucson for her current gig, which has included kicking the dessert menus up a notch while ensuring the basics remain intact.
“There are standards for Loews. You have to have a cheesecake, you have to have custard, you have to have an all-chocolate dessert,” she says, before launching into a list of the other things she’s up to.
There are waffle sundaes; sticky buns; lemon-mousse tarts with rosewater meringue and raspberry coulee; and German-chocolate cheesecake with pecan brittle and coconut anglais. She also makes a whole gamut of items ranging from rustic crumb pies to delicate individual pettifores for weekend brunches and other happenings.
She’s also reintroduced the citrus olive-oil cake that was a huge hit at the Ventana Room. In fact, she’s sort of infusing the whole resort with the experience she gained at once was once one of Tucson's finest restaurants.
That’s fine for Jennifer Duffy, who handles public relations for the resort. She says the reason the Ventana Room shut its doors was a waning interest in fine-dining. Welcoming Owens back to the property is bringing some of that Ventana Room sparkle back, minus the high-end price tag.
Owens’ skill will be on full display on Saturday, Sept. 3, when her desserts are highlighted at the resort’s Sparkle and Pop party. It’s $20 per person and there will be sparkling wines and fireworks. Attendees will be able to watch those fireworks through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the former Ventana Room.
Reservations are requested. Call 299-2020 for more info.