Pastry Chef Kate Jennings Is In at Boston’s Townsman

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After a hiatus from the kitchen, Jennings returns to her helm behind the pastry counter

Pomegranate molasses ice cream from Kate Jennings at the Townsman

Transitions always make for exciting and dynamic times. Nowhere is this more true than in the heart of a kitchen. Over the past few months at Boston’s Townsman Restaurant, in the Leather District, the pastry department witnessed a major transition: Kate Jennings, former pastry guru at Farmstead in Providence, Rhode Island, has stepped in as head pastry chef.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Jennings to speak with her about her recent transitions: from pastry chef to mother and from florist back to pastry chef. In some ways, over the past few years, she has come full circle. Over in Providence, Rhode Island, Jennings and her husband, Matt, the owner and executive chef at Townsman, worked as a power couple at Farmstead. The rustic spot drew local loyalists and fans from afar; Farmstead was a prominent stomping ground for experimentation.

A couple of years ago now, Townsman opened up shop and took Boston by storm. Jennings took a break from the kitchen to focus on other endeavors. When Meghan Thompson, former Townsman pastry chef, decided to explore new opportunities, Jennings decided it was time to put on her pastry cap once more.

Often, when there is turnover in a restaurant, turbulence ensues. This is not the case at Townsman, which is a testament to the strong sense of community throughout the establishment. Jennings even spent a few weeks working with Thompson at the pastry counter. Their main goals were to devise a plan that would allow for the most seamless menu transition, pay homage to a few tried-and-true Townsman staples, and allow for a clear path to be drawn under new regime.

Perhaps the bigger challenge was seasonal ingredients; coming into a head position of any department in the kitchen in the middle of January is tough. Jennings says she quickly ran through some of the more interesting ingredients used in winter-centric desserts. These inspired dishes like their ‘signature scoop’ of pomegranate and molasses ice cream topped with tahini caramel sauce. This scoop is bright and grounded, creamy and with a slight tang. It is contradictory in all of the most extraordinary ways. Served in a bowl made by the talented Boston potter Ogusky Ceramics, the presentation is simple and strong.

Other menu items that have remained through the first round of menu changes are the banana bread with malted chocolate, peanut butter, and vanilla whip. This breakfast-for-dessert dish is delectable, decadent, and delicious. The banana bread, served French toast-style, is ooey-gooey on the inside.

A creamy and zesty Meyer lemon tart, presented on a black/gray slate, has a rosemary crust and white chocolate — a lighter option and a refreshing splash of color for the winter season.

Looking ahead, Jennings is especially excited to get her hands on more fruits and, surprisingly, vegetables. Though these are not in her usual arsenal, Jennings is very happy to empower her team to explore their own areas of creativity, especially if that incorporates some of the greener ingredients into the dessert menu offerings.

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At this point, the transition has been so seamless as to present diners with a shift that is more attuned to seasonal changes without representing a dramatic departure from dessert menus past. The support of the rest of the team and Jenning’s eye for true leadership in the kitchen can be thanked for this. Time will tell how the dessert menu will continue to change — I would recommend heading in a few times over the next few weeks to check out new additions. And please, save room for dessert!