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Graef to be Honored on Hospitality Wall of Fame

May 05, 2014

Dorothy Graef  

Dorothy Graef is a trailblazer for female pastry chefs in St. Louis, but she would rather deflect such attention. Humble to a fault, she has persevered in this demanding and challenging business for 35 years, respected by her peers for her professionalism and fortitude.


Because of her dedication, tenacity and skills, Graef is being inducted into the St. Louis Community College’s Hospitality Studies Wall of Fame, which is located on the Forest Park campus. The ceremony is May 8.


Graef, the executive pastry chef at the Sunset Country Club, earned an associate degree in hotel/restaurant management from STLCC in 1979, and also graduated in 1981 from the chefs/cooks apprenticeship program, a certificate of proficiency that took three years to complete.


Staying Put

'Graef has only worked at three places in 35 years, which is practically unheard of in the hospitality industry. She started out at the St. Louis Club in 1979, under the tutelage of legendary certified master pastry chef Wolfgang Bierer, hired through the college’s selective apprenticeship program.  She moved on to the University Club for 23 years until it closed, then joined the Sunset Country Club in 2007.


She attributes her longevity to enjoying her work and a willingness to try new things.


“Pastry’s fun, but it takes hard work and perseverance. It’s all about attitude and perseverance,” she said. “I’m lucky to have a job I love, and that makes a huge difference.”


Graef discovered early in her career that making sweet treats for people was very rewarding.


“Baking says you care, when you take the time to bake something. It’s an art and a science, but it’s not as hard as people think,” she said. “It’s all about your eye, taste and smell – you must have a feel for what you are doing, and you have to do it over and over again. I had a professor say ‘practice makes permanent.’”


Balancing Act

In 1979, Graef worked full time while she was also going to school full time, which made for long days. The apprenticeship program, overseen by several highly regarded professional chefs, was competitive and grueling. The chefs accepted only three to five students after testing and personal interviews. Students kept a detailed log book, and were required to join the St. Louis Chefs de Cuisine organization as junior chefs.


“We had to work hard, and we went to work every day,” said Rob Hertel, a chef/educator at STLCC who was a classmate of Graef’s.


The fourth child in a family of nine kids, Graef grew up in south St. Louis City, and graduated from Bishop DuBourg High School.


There were very few women in the restaurant-hotel management degree program back then, and Graef was the only female in the pastry area of specialization.


“It didn’t faze me that I was the only woman. I see myself as a chef. I don’t see people as male, female, black, white. I just see people as professionals,” she said.  “I’m lucky I knew what I wanted to do at age 18.”


Into the Sunset

Her mentor Bierer, a certified culinary educator, taught her the tricks of the trade. Considered the consummate pastry chef, he holds the highest level of certification a pastry chef can earn, shared by only 13 others in the United States. He spent more than 20 years as executive chef at the St. Louis Club and also retired from Nestle. Originally from Germany, he was one of the youngest European chefs to earn master chef designation. He also has been recognized with awards for sharing his knowledge, and being a source of information and guidance.


Graef is fond of her colleagues at the Sunset Country Club.


“I work with a great group of young people. We are always helping each other out,” she said.


Founded in 1910 by Adolphus Busch, the Sunset Country Club is located in south St. Louis County.  Graef keeps club members and their guests happy with such specialties as chocolate tuxedo strawberries, chocolate macaroons and “anything with sugar.”


“I like what I do because it stays versatile. I can go from a children’s party to an elaborate wine dinner. The sky’s the limit,” she said. “I love to experiment with anything new. I always want to learn new things.”


In the beginning, her repertoire was mainly European pastries, but now she favors such vintage American classics as chess pie, red velvet cake, and made-from-scratch tapioca pudding. She likes developing special touches, for instance, adding chocolate ganache to a chocolate banana bread pudding.


“I have a passion for breads. I like doing the basics right. If you have good ingredients – pure vanilla, real butter and good quality chocolate, you can make a great brownie,” she noted.


Her favorite regular shift is 6 a.m.-2:30 p.m., but this time of year is her busiest season, so she’ll put in long hours for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, weddings, special dinners, graduation parties and other clientele requests. She also teaches a kids’ cooking class as part of camp offerings during the summer.


“As long as I can keep expanding my horizons, I’ll keep doing it. If I can try some new things, I’ll stay excited,” she said.


The Hospitality Studies Wall of Fame is lined with plaques recognizing people who have made significant contributions to the local culinary industry, and is located inside the Jack E. Miller Hospitality Studies Center at Forest Park.