Dolester Miles, the pastry chef at Birmingham, Ala.-based restaurant Highlands Bar and Grill, has been whipping up mouthwatering Southern desserts for decades. Finally, she's being recognized by the James Beard Foundation for her outstanding work, including a sinful Chocolate Hazelnut Dacquoise, flawless Banana Cream Pie, and summery Strawberry Cobbler. Below, the 2016 Outstanding Pastry Chef finalist answers a few of our burning questions; read on, and then go make her epic Lemon Meringue Tart recipe.
What's your earliest memory in the kitchen?
Cooking with my mother and aunt. My mother taught me all the basics about cooking and baking. She and my aunt would share ideas, and we would all be in the kitchen together. Those are good memories. My aunt is now 88 years old and still bakes. Her pecan pies are the best, and she can make any kind of cake. But my mother showed me how to make meringues; how to make a good graham cracker crust; the best way to cream butter and sugar together when making cakes.
Who is the chef you admire the most and why?
[Highlands Bar and Grill owner and executive chef] Frank Stitt, of course, but I also admire Bobby Flay because I like his personality, and the way he brings a recipe to life when you're watching him on television. He makes you want to cook because he's having fun and enjoys what he's doing.
What made you become a chef?
I became a chef because I enjoy baking and cooking, and I wanted to do more of it. I consider myself fortunate to do what I love for a living. I'm lucky!
Any cookbook by Martha Stewart.
Who do you follow on Instagram for inspiration, or even just some laughs?
I'm a little old-fashioned so I'm not on Instagram.