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“But working for such a talented and powerful female chef was so inspiring and empowering,” Spurlin said. Kearney “quickly changed my perception and made me realize that there were safe and inclusive spaces out there. Although I was already considering going to culinary school, this really cemented my decision — and Anne has been so supportive of me.”
Emily Spurlin, a 2006 graduate of Oakwood High School, has been named a semifinalist in the annual James Beard Foundation awards in the category for Outstanding Pastry Chef in the nation. She works at Lula Cafe in Chicago.
Credit: Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Credit: Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
In an email from Tampa, where she now serves as chef at Oak & Ola restaurant, Kearney called Spurlin “a bright young woman” whose career she has followed since Spurlin enrolled in the Paris pastry program.
“I watched online as she trained and got to see her work come to life,” Kearney said. “The fine art of pastries is a world of precision, and I am sure she has honed her skills through the years and is on her mark.”
Spurlin is a graduate of the École Supérieure de Cuisine Française-Ferrandi pastry program in Paris. After graduation, she began working in restaurants in the culinary mecca of Chicago, including a stint at Bad Hunter, prior to joining Lula Cafe last fall.
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Her decision to enroll in a culinary program after completing her Miami degree came as a surprise to her parents, John and Susan Spurlin of Oakwood.
“But she has just done extremely well,” her proud father said. “She has become a rock star in Chicago’s restaurant scene.”
When Starchefs.com profiled Spurlin as a rising star pastry chef in May 2018, here's what the web site said about her work at Chicago's Bad Hunter restaurant:
“She commands nostalgia, color, and salt in her pastry, and knows how to do delicious in a multitude of forms — biscuits and sourdough croissants for brunch, and glorious, unexpected desserts after 5 p.m.”
Emily Spurlin said the Beard recognition “has honestly never been a goal of mine. It is something I always thought would be a tremendous honor, but felt very out of reach or too big of a dream.”
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“This makes it feel even more significant, since I just didn't imagine it was something that would happen in my career,” Spurlin said. “My litmus test for success has never been about winning awards, and has always been whether I was providing a safe and healthy work environment for my employees, and whether they go on to have success after working for me, or know more than they did when they started. So this feels huge, because I wasn't even expecting it.”
Kearney, a Dayton-area native who earned Beard foundation recognition for her culinary work at her restaurants in both New Orleans and Dayton, said the Beard Foundation semifinalist nomination “will put Emily in a whole new light, on a different level, simply because of the exposure of her name and the company she works for to such a broad and hungry audience.”
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“She will get invitations to participate in all types of fundraising events, where she will expose an even larger audience to her skill set,” Kearney said. “That is where the fun is.”
If Spurlin makes the next cut to the finalists’ round of the Beard awards, “it will get even more exciting,” Kearney said.
And if that does happen, Spurlin will be ready.
“Making it to the finals will be tough, since this is a national category, and there are some real powerhouse pastry chefs’ names on the (semifinalists’) list,” Spurlin said.
Then she added: “Am I already shopping for a gown to wear to the awards ceremony anyways? You bet!”