In the kitchen of a tidy apartment near the Miami River, two half-eaten pies sit alone on the top shelf of a sturdy stainless-steel refrigerator. Forks are wedged in like shovels in the dirt of a gold mine.
One is a key lime pie from Joe's Stone Crab, the other a Publix cheesecake.
They belong to two of Miami's top pastry chefs, who snack on pie when things get stressful.
"After working a 14-hour shift, you go home and you need to find some comfort," says Dallas Wynne, a cheerful 23-year-old blonde from a small town near Port St. Lucie. "We rely on that pie. It keeps us going."
Wynne and Devin Braddock, a soft-spoken, lanky 27-year-old from Tampa, are housemates who, despite prodigious talent, struggle to pay rent. Braddock bakes at Blue Collar and Mignonette, two of uptown Miami's most intimate and popular eateries. Wynne is responsible for bread and desserts at Top Chef winner Jeremy Ford's Stubborn Seed, a swanky South Beach restaurant.
The pair met under the tutelage of James Beard Award-nominated pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith at the legendary Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District, and though they are relatively young, they know what they want to do in life. Pastry chefs inhabit the bottom rung of a ladder that can lead to fame and fortune. They earn little and work 70 to 80 hours per week.
"You walk into the industry thinking you're going to be making cupcakes," Wynne says, "but there you are cleaning gaskets. You have to really want it, but of course we get frustrated thinking about the numbers."
Pastry chefs begin and end a meal. They bake bread that's usually customers' first taste of a restaurant and create a lasting impression with dessert. They work longer hours than servers, line cooks, and sometimes even sous-chefs and executive chefs. But they make significantly less. On average, an executive pastry chef earns about $15 per hour before taxes, according to Salary.com. But they taste-test recipes, develop menus, make most ingredients from scratch, and run day-to-day operations.
"We're so passionate about pastry," Wynne says. "We can't see ourselves doing anything else."
Braddock comes from pastry royalty. Her grandmother, Terry Stabler, was born in Panama. In the early 1960s, she moved to Tampa and took a job at a local Publix bakery, while her husband, Braddock's grandfather, was deployed in the Vietnam War. Stabler moved to Chicago for culinary school and then, in the early '80s, landed in New York, where she worked her way up to executive pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton.
"It's the epitome of starting from the bottom," Braddock says. "She didn't know much English when she started. I always believed that if she could do it, so could I."
When Braddock was a young girl, her grandmother moved back to Tampa and ran a pastry business from her home. When Braddock was 6, her grandma taught her to mold almond paste into the shape of an orchid. Then, she said, "make 500."
"I was a pain in her ass," Braddock laughs. "She was strict. When she told me what to do, I had to do it. She was one to slap a hand if I did something wrong."
At the age of 18, without much money, Braddock moved to Miami to attend Johnson & Wales for pastry. After a year and a half, she dropped out and found a job at an Italian restaurant in Sunny Isles making cheesecakes. Then she went to Wynwood Kitchen & Bar for 2.5 years before being hired at Michael's Genuine in 2011.
Wynne learned cooking in a very different way. Her grandmother was "the worst cook in the world," she says. "She used to make egg pancakes," Wynne says, laughing. "It was her version of scrambled eggs with baking powder to puff them up. She would hand it to me with a bottle of ketchup."
In Palm City, a sleepy town three hours southeast of Tampa, both of Wynne's parents worked long days. Wynne cooked for herself; then, in high school, she got a job in the kitchen at a local country club. Like Braddock, she later attended Johnson & Wales. Two months in, she went to a job fair and soon was working part-time at Schwartz's pizza joint, Harry's. Then she was offered a part-time job making pastry at Michael's Genuine.
"There's this stigma against pastry chefs that all you do is bake cookies," Wynne says. "But my mom was like, 'You're an idiot. You have to go work for Hedy Goldsmith.'"
Still in school, Wynne worked as a line cook at Harry's, in the pastry department at Michael's, and at a side job at Whole Foods. "I was literally 90 pounds, wasn't eating or sleeping, working 100 hours a week," she says. "I had no experience in pastry either. I was thrown into the deep end."
Wynne's first day at Michael's, she met Braddock. There wasn't enough room for both of them at the pastry station. So Braddock was forced to use a trash can as a makeshift counter.
"Everyone was like 'Oh, she's here to replace you,'" Braddock remembers. "I was hungry. No one was going to replace me."
A few months later, on New Year's Eve, they worked the same shift and finally began talking. "That's when we realized it was us against each other or us against the world," Braddock says. "I'm socially awkward; Dallas is outgoing. They wanted us to fight each other, but it wasn't going to happen."
In the ensuing months, they nailed Goldsmith's prized cookie dough recipe. Then came Goldsmith's cremoso, a sweet, salty, olive oily-rich, and bitter dessert. "I would freak out if I couldn't get something right, and Dallas was always the one who was calm," Braddock says. "We kept each other going no matter how hard it was."
Adds Wynne: "Only the strong survive at Michael's. We needed each other. And now I finally had someone I could relate to in such a deep way — someone who actually understood."
The women put their strengths together — Braddock's technical skill and Wynne's ability to think fast.
"Hedy trained Dallas and me from the bottom up," Braddock says. "We were so green, and she took us under her wing with a lot of devotion."
"Working with Hedy was like being in high school and getting to train with Michael Jordan," Wynne says in agreement.
When Goldsmith announced her departure from Michael's in 2015, the two were distraught. "I was in class and my phone rang," Wynne recalls. "I walked outside to the side of the street, and she said she was moving to Los Angeles. I practically fell to the ground."
Adds Braddock: "She was Miami's pastry scene. And now we didn't have anyone to lead us."
Braddock and Wynne weren't promoted or given raises, but they were expected to fill Goldsmith's shoes. "Devin and I are like yin and yang," Wynne says. "We just figured it out together."
When Wynne graduated from Johnson & Wales in 2015, Michael Beltran, the former sous-chef at Schwartz's Cypress Tavern, asked the then-20-year-old to help open the New American restaurant Ariete in Coconut Grove and be its executive pastry chef. At first she said no. "Devin thought I was crazy for turning it down," Wynne says. "Moving was scary. But then I realized I needed to keep growing."
Meanwhile, Braddock was hired at Brad Kilgore's Alter, a Wynwood restaurant known for intricate cuisine. "I was completely ill-prepared," Braddock says. "It was all about molecular gastronomy."
Braddock had made ice cream hundreds of times, but at Alter, the recipe called for stabilizers and difficult-to-pronounce chemicals. It wasn't coming out the way it should, she says. So then she turned to Wynne for help.
"What is so great about our friendship is that we always open a new window for each other," Wynne says.
Finally, they moved to the places where they are today. Wynne became executive pastry chef at Stubborn Seed. Braddock left Alter for an opportunity to lead Danny Serfer's string of restaurants and open the now-defunct Mignonette Uptown in North Miami Beach.
"I went from making pies to working with tweezers," Wynne says. "You're petrified because you have no idea what you're doing."
They spent hours bouncing ideas off each other. "I remember crying to her and saying I couldn't come up with anything cool or different," Braddock says. "But Dallas reassured me. In a true friendship, you talk it out."
Back at their Miami River apartment, Wynne's 85-pound German shepherd/Rottweiler mix Callie and Braddock's small but overweight black cat Scram have struck up a similar and just as unlikely friendship. They eat each other's food, sleep nearby, and hang out.
Though the two chefs have different schedules — Braddock works in the daytime and Wynne clocks out around 2 a.m. — Monday-night dinner is a fixture. It's their only night off. They roll gnocchi on their countertop and proof pumpernickel bread inside a small, humid washer-dryer closet.
"We love cooking for each other on Mondays, but we're both not that into desserts," Wynne says, "unless it's pie."
"Or when we go to Taco Bell," Braddock chimes in. "We love that. Oh, and Flanigan's. You're never going to see us come home and prepare a summer truffle pasta. It's all about that pitcher of beer and jalapeño ranch."
"And extra napkins!" they shout in unison. Then they burst into laughter.
Smiling at each other, they say together: "Two girls against the world always win."