It looks as if Lina Biancamano, who's a contestant on Season 2 of Bravo's Top Chef Just Desserts, has done her fair share of commuting.
Biancamano, 37, is a Fort Worth resident who is the executive pastry chef at Stephan Pyles' namesake restaurant in downtown Dallas. Before that, she worked for Five Sixty, Wolfgang Puck's restaurant in Dallas' Reunion Tower.
"When I first came here, there weren't many job opportunities in fine dining in Fort Worth," says Biancamano, who has lived in North Texas since 2008. "There are a few now. There's a handful of them. But at the time [I moved here], Wolfgang and Stephan Pyles and the other big names in the Dallas area were very intriguing to me."
By the time you read this, though, she may be gone from Stephan Pyles -- when she was interviewed a couple of weeks ago, Biancamano said she was leaving the restaurant and considering several offers closer to home. It would be the latest stop in a culinary journey that started in Glendale, Ariz., where she grew up, and took her to Austin, where she lived for four years before moving to Dallas-Fort Worth.
"My parents were Italian immigrants, so I grew up with food," Biancamano says. "I was always in the kitchen with my mom at a very young age making homemade bread and pasta. So I've always been interested in cooking."
She'd had about 10 years of restaurant experience, waiting tables, when she entered culinary school at 27.
"I knew there was lots of craziness in the business," she says. "But I needed something to attract my creative side. When I entered culinary school, I was really interested in going into pastry, but there weren't a lot of pastry opportunities. So I've done both, pastries and cooking, but my main love has been pastry."
She becomes Just Desserts' second North Texas-based chef in its two seasons. Morgan Wilson, pastry chef at the Lobby Lounge at the Dallas Ritz-Carlton, made it all the way to the finals in Season 1 and was also part of the show's dramatic tension with his alpha-male personality. Although the original Top Chef has had its share of drama, none of its seasons reached the operatic levels of Just Desserts, in which one contestant left the show after what appeared to be a nervous breakdown. Are pastry chefs crazier than other chefs, or is just the way the show made it seem?
"I think to work in this business, you have to be a little bit crazy, no matter what," Biancamano says with a laugh. "Whether you're a pastry chef or a regular chef. It's a crazy business. But the [Season 2] cast is awesome. We had a really good time. I think everybody's going to be really pleased."
Which doesn't mean it doesn't have its own drama, and in Wednesday's premiere, Biancamano becomes part of that, thanks to a conflict with another contestant during a challenge. And Just Desserts seems even more of a risk for its contestants than the original Top Chef, because desserts often involve baking, and baking involves the kind of precision that can be hard to achieve under unusual time constraints and with unfamiliar equipment.
"It's definitely challenging," Biancamano says. "When you're in your own environment and are expecting things in the workplace, you kind of know the snowballs that are going to be thrown your way. But it's totally different when you're in a different situation with different people . . . not quite knowing what's going to be thrown your way. You think you're a really, really super-talented person, and you get thrown into a situation like that, and you kind of wonder. I know I'm talented, but it's definitely tough."
Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872