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Abby Swain


Photographs by SUPPLY UNICA

Temple Court, a fine-dining American restaurant within The Beekman, an iconic and New York City designated landmark hotel in lower Manhattan. It’s a grand space, reminiscent of old New York, situated downtown in the Financial District. Plush, dark olive velvet fabrics, walls with troweled on plaster texture, contrast antique brass accents throughout create a nostalgic sumptuousness. The energy buzzing with people on a Sunday afternoon.

The host seats me at a marble table near the front that has a sign, “Reserved” on it, and tells me, “I will let her know you’re here.” Abby shortly walks from the kitchen and greets me warmly. She is the Executive Pastry Chef at Temple Court. She crafts masterful iconic desserts like Apple Pie, Baked Alaska, and Millefeuille - each is exceptional in its own simplicity.

On the weekends and some evenings, Abby creates handmade ceramics.

Abby tells me about how she got into ceramics, “Throughout my high school career, I took Design and Sculpture classes as an elective. We widdled wood, sculpted clay and learned to throw on the pottery wheel. I enjoyed the wheel the most. In 2015, I signed up for pottery classes and got my hands back in the mud at Greenwich House Pottery. A year later I moved to Brooklyn and transferred to Choplet in Williamsburg. During class, I was throwing one of a kind pieces on the wheel - nothing matched and no two were alike. Then at the start of 2018, a friend introduced me to Wynne Noble of Noble Plateware in Brooklyn.”

“I started working for Wynne on Saturdays, my days off from Temple Court. When we met, she gave me a set of tasks and told me to try them out. When she returned, I could see she was surprised at what I could naturally make. It wasn't perfect, but I'm a pastry chef. I know how to work the assembly, I understand timing, and I understand what needs to be done and the sequence of processes. I loved how relatable the work was. Working with my hands, shaping the clay, baking it in a kiln-and glazing is not unlike making pastries. Although, instead of eating it when you're done you eat off it!”

“I like the control that hand-building provides and that I can make it at home since I don't own a pottery wheel. My dad built me a plaster table to wedge and recycle clay and now I can create around my schedule.”

Working with my hands, shaping the clay, baking it in a kiln, and glazing is not unlike making pastries. Although, instead of eating it when you're done you eat off it!

Abby’s dad has always had great influence in her life. From him, she learned at a young age that hard work paid off. Abby tells me, "My dad worked really hard when I was growing up. He started off as an accountant for a cement company, and eventually became the head of finance of their North American department. I saw how we slowly began to acquire more things throughout the years as my dad continued to work hard at his job. From a young age, I knew that I had to work to earn what I wanted. I knew I was going to need to work hard in life, and therefore I should do what I really love. I really loved sweets and donuts growing up, so I pursued that. I find myself where I am today simply because I love making pastries and I've worked hard at it throughout the years."

Abby's childhood home is located on a river, secluded on a large plot of land one hour north of Philadelphia. Her parents still live there today. For her, this house is a symbol of the devotion and hard work that is necessary in pursuing a goal.

"When I was young we moved into a house that was built by a couple, who went bankrupt before it was finished. So when we moved into it, it was entirely empty inside - it was really only a shell, and my dad built everything on the inside of it. I remember looking down and seeing open joists from the second floor all the way to the basement. And slowly, over the years, my dad built rooms and portions of it took shape as we got older. My dad and I did a lot of the building together. I've always been used to working with my hands."

From a young age, I knew that I had to work to earn what I wanted... I really loved sweets and donuts growing up, so I pursued that. I find myself where I am today simply because I love making pastries and I've worked hard at it throughout the years.

Abby moved with swiftness, precision, and a fluidity around sequence. She started by bringing out the Baked Alaska within minutes of beginning the photoshoot so that we could photograph it in a small white plate. She then took the dessert away and replaced it with the same dessert in a larger bowl for different staging, and took the small white bowl away to bake a crisp in it. Her joy in seeing her own dessert plated in her original ceramic pieces for the time was palpable.

"I like to present the millefeuille without the crisp on top, and then to place the crisp on once it’s at the table." We photographed the desserts in layers, plated at various stages of completion and presentation. She placed the ice cream on top of the Gateau Basque in front of me, expertly rolling the spoon and dipping it in water to create the shine on the ice cream as she moved it from the bin of homemade ice cream to top the cake.

Abby muses, "I guess I do really like making things by hand."

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