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3 questions with Sara Whittlesey, sous/pastry chef 

For Charlotte veterans and newbies, the city's expanding culinary sphere seems endless with possibilities. Growing up in what was once a small town of mom and pop eateries, native Charlottean Sara Whittlesey hasn't always known this said endlessness of culinary possibilities to be true. Over time, just as envisioned eateries grew among Charlotte's cityscape, Whittlesey's pastry and culinary roots also grew. At one time, Whittlesey, now sous chef and pastry chef at Crepe Cellar (3116 N. Davidson St.; www.crepecellar.com), had a very bare resume. In fact, in order to impress a potential employer, she provided the owner of a small bakery with a tray of assorted baked goods and allowed the sweets to speak for themselves.

Creative Loafing: As a pastry chef, what is the secret to your sweets?

Sara Whittlesey: I don't rely on too much sugar. It's more about infusing the flavor into what you're making, adding more vanilla or making simple syrup to give whatever you're baking its sweetness. I make my own vanilla extract out of vanilla bean and a bottle of vodka. There are times, depending on the flavor I am going for, I use bourbon or whiskey. I'm a Southern girl, so it helps that I'm not scared of butter in any capacity. It's all about figuring out how to accomplish something with limited resources. As a self-taught chef, you have to know more than people who went to culinary school because people will grill you.

Being native to Charlotte, have you noticed a transformation in the food culture of the Queen City?

Completely! For a place like Crepe, a French-based gastropub, to survive in Charlotte is completely different from when I was a kid. It used to be that you could only find envisioned chain dining in the city. So it has grown tremendously. The way Charlotte has been set up, food-wise, is it welcomes many people from all over the world to settle here and bring their culinary culture with them. So now we have so much international cuisine and more Asian and Latin markets than we used to, places where you can get fresh and affordable food.

Where do you hope to see your culinary culture and Charlotte's culinary culture go within the next five to 10 years?

This is probably going to sound crazy [laughs]: I would like to see more food carts — mobile food carts, Korean BBQ carts — the ability to find amazing food in the back of a truck.

Eventually, I want to open my own Southern international bakery where you can get good Southern pastries as well as stuff from around the world, like African desserts. I would also like for the bakery to have a brew bar, which serves slow-poured coffee and wine. But I will be at the Crepe Cellar for a while; I have no intentions on leaving anytime soon.

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