"I remember when I was 20 and just starting out in the restaurant business. I would look at the best new chef's article in Food + Wine each year. I always had it in the back of my mind that it would be the most amazing thing ever to be on that list. And now I have a shot at something that's always been my dream," Pollard says.
Pollard didn't know that she would be one of the 17 chefs in the central region — there are three regions (east and west are the others) — and one of the 50 chefs vying for the title of best new pastry chef when Food + Wine called to get some information about her background. They told her that they were compiling a chef's database. They were actually calling to make sure she had less than five years' experience running her own pastry kitchen — Pollard has been with Lidia's for four and a half years.
"It was just really, really exciting. I was honored to be included. I certainly didn't expect that I would show up in the polls. But now that I could win, that changes everything," Pollard says.
She's currently neck and neck with Lindsay Greytak of L'Etoile in Madison, Wisconsin, in the weeklong contest that ends at 11 p.m. today. Pollard, as of 10 a.m., had a 29 percent to 28 percent lead in the online poll. No other chef has more than 11 percent, so this is a two-woman race. And even though Pollard is eager to win, she admits that she hasn't mastered the art of social media.
"I don't tweet and I'm not so good on Facebook. But I'm trying to reach out to people," Pollard says.
And while friends try and wrangle desserts out of her in exchange for their votes, she's focusing on Valentine's Day at Lidia's and her new seasonal menu. She knows that most people will need to try the tiramisu, but she has two other recommendations for desserts on the menu at the Freight House restaurant — a caramel stout cake with chocolate ganache (a hit during Kansas City Restaurant Week) and a baba (a bread typically soaked in rum, but Pollard has opted for a lighter citrus version with limoncello, Meyer lemons, Cara Cara oranges and blood-orange juice with a bit of pastry cream).
"When this is all over, I'll definitely have to throw a party for all of the people that have been so supportive. I'm not just sitting around voting, but there are all these other people that are doing just that, and I think it's amazing," Pollard says.
And like many of the young chefs who are highlighted by Food + Wine, Pollard is interested in moving to another city. She's a self-professed "nomad," but she also has no immediate plans to try and find another kitchen.
"I enjoy the whole experience of being immersed in a new environment, and there are just so many interesting food cities. But I love my job here. It's one of the things that has kept me in Kansas City for so long," Pollard says.
The voting closes tonight at 11 p.m. Central time. There will be three regional winners with the overall winner being determined by who has the most votes of any candidate.