Keris Kuwana has the sweetest job in the world, literally. As the Executive Pastry Chef of The Lev Group, a company that partners with chefs and restaurants to develop brands and concepts, she cooks up treats all day for beloved Las Vegas restaurants like Al Solito Posto. and La Strega. Previously, the Hawaiian native honed her sweet tooth on the Strip at Aureole and Yardbird, and she recently launched her own line of desserts, Keris Sweets, at select Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf stores across the valley. The Weekly caught up with the sugar dynamo to talk about pastry inspiration, mochi donuts and overturned tiramisu.
How did your interest in baking come about? I was passionate about diamonds and actually graduated in gemology. I loved itâ¦ but I never knew exactly what I wanted to do. [Then one day], I was decorating Easter eggs with my cousins, and it was absolutely amazing. The next week they wanted to decorate cookies, and I [realized], I just want to do this. I have my creativity and love the food, so why not do something with some pastries? So I quit my job as a gemologist. Downstairs there was a tiny little cookie shop called Hokulani Bakery, a Hawaiian cookie company, and I worked for $ 7 an hour as a cookie decorator. It was a really fun experience, we only made cookies and cupcakes.
Then you finally made your way from Hawaii to Las Vegas. I worked for a company called 50 Eggs. I was the business manager at Yardbird [in the Venetian] and we also did Chica and we worked on the upstairs pool. It was super fun – loads of pancakes with syrup and confetti, confetti cakes, all of that stuff. They let me be creative with a peach cobbler. I also worked with Vincent [Pouessel], which is now at Mon Ami Gabi. We were at Aureole for Charlie Palmer, and they also gave me a lot of creative freedom. I mean, being a little person from Hawaii and being successful in a big casino is really something to be proud of.
Tell us about your current role within the Lev Group. They are so awesome. We have over 60 locations. I do restaurant development for all concepts. There is a dessert program that we do for La Strega. At Al Solito Posto, the famous rainbow cake, budino, big crostata and poured tiramisu, these are all our desserts.
This tiramisu poured to Al Solito sounds intriguing. How did it happen? So we didn’t want the regular tiramisu where you line it with lady’s fingers and it’s a square cut out of the pan and slap it on a plate. We wanted something completely different. We took the mascarpone mousse, we made a coffee mousse and we froze it in a half-sphere that comes out and lands on a Joconde cookie. It’s basically a white cake, so it’s slightly drier and absorbs liquid. And for this dome to rest on this white cake. And of course there is whipped cream with the tiramisu, so we made little whipped cream tips on the top of the spheres. It sits in a slightly shallow bowl and we pour the coffee liqueur, along with the Kahlua and the espresso, into the bowl next to the table. The cake absorbs this liquid and you have all the flavors of tiramisu in a very unconventional form.
You’ve just launched your own line of sweets at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and your specialty is mochi donuts. Tell us about this unusual treat. We’ll start with the regular flavors so people aren’t too afraid to order. Because most of the time people think mochi donuts are ice cream, and it’s not mochi ice cream. They are made from glutinous rice flour called Mochiko flour. And then, a little sugar and a little oil. We have a mochi donut machine that we brought in from Japan. The greatest part of our mochi donut is that we don’t use any artificial powder. We use real fruit juices.
Where do you find inspiration for creating desserts? Instagram and travel are my favorites, for sure. On Instagram, I’m going to see how a girl makes her flowers into wafers, and then it prompts me to do things, like, maybe I should make more flowers for our Mother’s Day cupcake, or, I don’t. never would have known they had these russian ball tips to make these beautiful flowers in just one piping stroke. And then nothing beats the trip. You see food in so many different forms. You can see the different approaches people take to making things like an Italian wedding cookie or a Mexican cookie. It is certainly a source of inspiration.
Click HERE to subscribe for free to Weekly Fix, the digital edition of Las Vegas Weekly! Stay up to date with the latest Las Vegas concerts, shows, restaurants, bars and more, sent straight to your inbox!