Name: May H.
Position: Pastry Sous Chef
Hotel: Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor
Dream destination: Paris and Spain
Drink or treat of choice: Caramel Frappuccino
When May H. joined Marriott in 2018, she was making a major career pivot. Like, major.
May, a single mom with a master’s in economics, left her desk job in banking to go to culinary school — she always loved baking, and even operated a cake decorating side business out of her house. While in culinary school, May joined the JW Marriott San Francisco as a pastry chef assistant. Three months later when the lead pastry chef left, she took over.
“I found it as an opportunity to just step in,” May recalls. “I went to my GM and asked him if I could change the menu.”
The general manager’s response? “’Show us what you got,’” May says that she was prompted to do a stage (pronounced staahj, short for stagiaire, a culinary term for proving your skills in the kitchen). “And I did it.”
Fast forward to fall of 2022, just four and a half years later, and May secured an opportunity most pastry chefs only dream about: She created the dessert for Marriott’s board of directors’ dinner and presented the masterpiece — a stunning apple-themed confection of caramel mousse and hazelnut cake that was meant to highlight the importance of sustainability and local ingredients — to Bill Marriott, David Marriott and other top leaders at the company.
So, what all happened over the last four and half years to skyrocket May’s career to stardom? And what would she tell other pastry chefs, looking for their start? Learn all about her Marriott pastry chef journey in her words, below.
How has your career changed since joining Marriott?
Within six months of joining the JW as a pastry chef assistant, I was promoted to the pastry lead. I was doing the new banquet menu and the new restaurant menu.
And after two years at the JW, in May 2020, I joined The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay as the pastry chef de partie. It was always a dream of mine to work at the Ritz-Carlton. They didn’t have a pastry chef at that time, so I also took the lead, introducing their wedding cake program as well as afternoon tea.
What I love about Marriott is how big of a company it is, and all the different brands — small, big, luxury — so you can have different experiences. So, after two years at a smaller luxury property, I wanted to experience a bigger operation, so I moved from the Bay Area to this Gaylord with a promotion and even more opportunity.
With Marriott, literally the sky is the limit, but you must have it in yourself to take those opportunities. The past five years haven’t been an easy process — all the chefs around me had like, 15-20 years of baking experience and joined the hotel business when they were 18. I was intimidated, having only been in it for five years, but my executive chefs always supported me, and I always ask for more, and seek out new opportunities.
It’s not easy being a single mom and working in culinary, but if you have faith in yourself, you can do it.
What is unique about building your culinary career in hotels, as opposed to traditional restaurants?
You get to experience everything. I’ve staged in restaurants before, and in a restaurant you work just with a plated dessert and have to have a certain amount of coverage. The magic about hotels, especially in pastry, is you get the experience of everything — from 500-person banquets to wedding cakes to working the line at the hotel restaurant. Literally, you get to experience everything and figure out what you like best.
It’s a great opportunity for those just getting started in a culinary career because the benefits are amazing, and you get to work in all the different areas and figure out what you like best. You learn to multi-task, and you’re not just focused on one thing for many years.
I never get bored, not even for a second.
What was your Marriott interview process like, and any tips for other culinary candidates?
Don’t just apply on the website. Find out who the executive chef is and send them an e-mail directly.
For both the JW and Ritz-Carlton positions, I did this — after applying through the website, I found the executive chef, sent them an e-mail with pictures of my stuff and requested to come and stage.
At the JW I got to stage for a day, and at the Ritz-Carlton because it was a higher leadership position, I needed to create a whole buffet of desserts and a small cake and then present them to the executive chef and general manager.
You must be bold. I was not going to just wait for them to call me.
How would you describe your experience as a Marriott associate?
There is a lot of opportunity. In my first position at the JW, the HR manager told me, “Once you get comfortable, take the next step. Don’t say ‘I don’t have enough experience.’ Just have faith in yourself and go to the next step.”
At Marriott, I feel safe and secure knowing that there will be another opportunity for me when I’m ready for the next thing. Even moving across the country for this position at Gaylord, I felt safe.
As a single mom, it’s very, very important that I feel safe and know that I have a next step in my career.
What’s one surprising thing about your job most people might not know?
For the holidays, I got to create two cake showpieces — stunningly festive confections, each over six tiers high. It took me and three of my talented cooks two days, 10 hours each day, to finish them… and we used over 50 lbs. of fondant!
What’s surprised you most about working for Marriott?
Being able to present my dessert to Mr. Marriott, as just a pastry sous chef who’s been in this business for four years. You don’t have to be a master chef for these experiences, to get these opportunities.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
The joy I see when guests take their first bite of a dessert, and they close their eyes and say “yum” because they love it so much. That’s the best.
My dream was to work for the Ritz-Carlton, I did that. My next dream was to present my dessert to Mr. Marriott, I did that. Now, my dream is to work in Europe. My brother is in London, and I love doing afternoon tea — so maybe London. We’ll see.