WASHINGTON — A 12-year odyssey for acclaimed chef Ashleigh Pearson has, at last, landed her at a zenith moment in her culinary career. Pearson's 'Petite Soeur', her first brick and mortar store, has just opened its doors along Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown.
"I’m confident that Georgetown will receive me with open arms,” Pearson said the week before opening day. “Because they know this is something genuine and authentic. It’s real and it’s here for the long run."
All those adjectives work, but she left an important one out: delicious.
Pearson's bonbons, the store's signature item, look like works of art. You're not sure if you should eat them or put them on display in your kitchen.
All the bonbons are hand painted and are available in different flavor varieties. She randomly chose one to describe.
"Here are dark chocolate, butter caramel bonbons. So, that’s a thin layer of 70% dark chocolate with a really soft ooey, gooey butter caramel inside," she said as drool began dripping from the corner of my mouth.
I was curious about etiquette, being that this was such a super classy dessert delicacy. Do you eat the entire bonbon in one bite? Take several bites? What's the proper amount to eat in one sitting?
“One thing I will never do as a chef is tell people how to eat because I think you can enjoy them any way," Pearson said.
She admitted to over-indulging on more than several occasions.
Pearson began her culinary career as a young, cocky student who was studying biology at UMBC. She applied for a job under Chef Robert Wiedmaier at Marcel’s in Foggy Bottom as a pastry chef.
In 2015, Pearson was awarded a scholarship by Les Dames d'Escoffier’s D.C, chapter and moved to Paris to attend the world-renowned le Cordon Bleu culinary school.
After graduating first in her class, Pearson returned to the U.S. and worked for a time in New York City at the three Michelin-starred 'Per Se' restaurant under Chef Thomas Keller. She quickly rose and was named head chocolatier.
I was curious about how she knew she was ready to take on the challenge of store ownership; where the success and failures ended with her.
“What I would say to people who look like me, don’t look like me, who want to do something like what I’m doing is just to put the work in," Pearson said. "Trust that the work will pay off. As a chef, technique comes first. Everything else will come later if you master that."
"One of the biggest misconceptions is that they haven’t been there. They’ve always been there but their stories haven’t been told," said Pearson when, perhaps ignorantly, I queried her about a lack of female and minority representation among the most successful and acclaimed chefs.
"I think African-Americans in this country have always been in the kitchen. They have always been trailblazers," said Pearson. "They have always been making moves. But they haven’t always been in positions to be seen and to be celebrated for the moves they’ve made."