Early on, Nathaniel Reid, Missouri ’03, discovered the joy that comes from making something with his own hands. His father was a carpenter, and growing up, Reid learned many of the skills of his dad’s trade. Now, he’s channeling that creative energy into a venture of his own. His chosen medium? Pastry.
The Le Cordon Bleu–trained chef has continued to solidify his reputation as a rising star in the food industry since opening his self-named bakery in 2016. Now, he’s been recognized with one of the most coveted honors in the business: In 2020, Reid was named a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Baker Award for the second year in a row.
Earning a James Beard Award nomination signifies a level of culinary excellence only a few chefs ever achieve. José Andrés, Rick Bayless and Bobby Flay are among the chefs who have won James Beard Awards.
Reid described his first nomination in 2019 as “a complete shock.” He recalled how he found out. “I got a call from a food magazine,” he said. That’s not unusual, so I didn’t think anything was up. Then, they asked me how it felt to be a semifinalist.”
Semifinalists are typically announced sometime in February, but it’s not always on the same date. Ever humble, Reid said his previous nomination made him more aware of the time frame for this year’s announcement, but that he was still surprised to receive another semifinalist nod.
Although he didn’t progress to the finalist round either time, Reid appreciates being recognized as one of the country’s top bakers.
Birth of a chef
His journey to becoming a chef began during college when he was working at a restaurant and asked to fill in when the pastry chef became ill. Reid chuckled as he recalled how, even though he had no experience making pastry, he repeatedly asked the executive chef to let him do the job. “Finally — just to make me go away, I think — he agreed to give me a shot, on the condition that I come in at 4 a.m.”
After a few hours of trial and error, Reid prepared several desserts before heading off to class. Everything he made sold out. That experience got him hooked, and a chef was born. “The artistry of it was just fascinating to me,” he shared.
After graduating from the world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu with a grand diploma in culinary and pastry arts, Reid embarked on a career that’s taken him to the kitchens of some of the world’s finest hotels and restaurants. Along the way, he won the 2010 U.S. Pastry Competition and in 2012, was named one of the top 10 pastry chefs in America by Dessert Professional magazine.
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He’s now putting those award-winning skills to use at the Nathaniel Reid Bakery, bringing the flavors of French pastries to the Midwest. “I feel like a lot of the products we make here are unique to this market, and some are unique to the whole country,” Reid stated.
His takes on easily recognizable desserts like snickerdoodles and double chocolate brownies sit side by side with signature creations like the Amber, a French butter cookie with salted caramel mouse and pecan caramel, and the Kyoto, a hazelnut cake with lime caramel and a hazelnut milk chocolate mousse. Savory items like quiches, sandwiches and salads also feature prominently on the menu. With roughly 120 items available every day, customers will have no problem finding something delicious.
Located in Kirkwood, Missouri, a suburb outside of St. Louis, the Nathaniel Reid Bakery operates from a small storefront in a nondescript strip mall. In an area that isn’t exactly known for its high foot traffic, Reid’s deserts and savory dishes have attracted a large and devoted following. In fact, demand was so great, he added another 1,000 square feet of baking and storage space in September 2019 just to keep up. He was also in the process of expanding his staff of 40 before the coronavirus pandemic forced him to shut down temporarily. The bakery reopened for curbside pickup on May 12 and is now open for takeout orders.
A labor of love and loyalty
Those carpentry skills Reid learned from his father came in handy, as the two did much of the work to prepare the storefront themselves. It was a labor of love, and he’s grateful that several of his chapter brothers pitched in to help him get it done.
“Some of my brothers who I hadn’t seen since college came in to help with this space. They ripped up floors and just helped me do whatever was needed to help get this place open,” he shared.
He had moved out of the country to attend culinary school right after college and lost touch with most of his chapter brothers. So having them show up to help him made an already significant time in his life even more special. Reflecting on his undergraduate days as a member of SigEp’s Missouri Alpha chapter, Reid said it’s not surprising that his brothers would make such an effort. “The individuals who were in the chapter with me were just a really great group of guys.”
He added, “To me, the interesting thing is it’s not just about that time together at school. There’s a loyalty to each other for life. To see them kind of rally and come together to help me out was great.”