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Categories: 2024 Seasoned in Service, FEB/MARCH 2024, FOOD & DRINK, Seasoned in Service

Seasoned in Service:
Carolyn Stubbs
30 years, 28 as pastry chef at Natalia’s

Seasoned in Service is a series in our annual Food Issues, celebrating local food service professionals who have been in the business for ten or more years, highlighting their invaluable contributions to our community.

Interviews by Sierra Stark Stevens

Photos by DSTO Moore

Miss Carolyn has been a fixture at Natalia’s in Macon, Georgia, for decades. Known to customers for her luxurious desserts – beautifully presented with fruit and greenery worthy of a still-life painting, with textures that melt in your mouth – and known to coworkers for her reliability, poise, and creativity, she’s a self-taught pastry chef who uses the challenges she’s faced to fuel a fulfilling career and philanthropic mission.


Is there a certain principle that has guided your work all these years?

I just feel like if I can make one person happy, I can make the world happy.


Why do desserts make people happy?

Okay, so you know when the desserts come out – you know my desserts are so big and whatever – the tables sitting in there go, “Ooh, that’s what I want.” And that’s me. The desserts reflect who I am.


So when you’re back there plating it, you’re thinking, “It’s dressed to show.”

Yes, and I want it to be the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. No matter how good the food looks, the dessert has to outdo the food.


But can you believe I’m not a dessert person?  


You’re not a dessert person? That’s surprising!

I’m not, I’m not. But we have this dessert called a chocolate roulade – that’s my favorite. It’s simple but elegant – an old-school dessert. Flourless cake, whipped cream, rolled like a Swiss cake. But most people go for that big ol’ white chocolate bread pudding – or the red velvet chocolate cake. Everybody likes that one. But you know, I never know what I’m doing when I start. I just do it. It just comes naturally to me now. 


What experience did you bring with you when you started in the kitchen?

None. I was so fresh. I actually didn’t start in the kitchen. I started out helping Natalia [del Basso Orsini, the founder of Natalia’s] with catering. Then, she asked me to help in the kitchen with salads. Now, Natalia was not easy to please. She demanded excellence. When the dessert lady got sick and couldn’t return, Natalia told me, “You’re going to do desserts until I find someone.” I said, “Good, because I don’t want to do it anyway.” And Natalia said, “Good, because I don’t want to babysit you.” But I’ve been here, doing desserts, ever since. 


I could barely bake a box cake, but I was determined to learn. It was a lot of reading, studying, and working late, learning the techniques on my own time. Once I got it down pat, I started tweaking it, and that’s when things started to get really good.


I became so passionate about it. I really, truly love it. 


Is that the first time you had to prove someone wrong about you?

No. I have had to prove myself plenty of times. A lot of times. Everybody here respects me. That’s because of who I am; I respect everybody and pretty much treat everybody the same. So what you see right here is what you get.


How do you maintain that, day in and day out, even when you’re tired?

I don’t know; I just do it. I came up over in old Tyvee [the historic Tybee neighborhood]. I come from an alcoholic family. A lot of the time, you come home. You don’t know where your next meal is coming from. Now, I didn’t have a bad mom. I had a perfect mom that did what she could do. And even though my mama drank, my grandmama drank, my uncle drank … I always said, “When I become an adult, I would not be like this.” And so that is what made me so strong as I am as a woman today. That’s where it comes from.


And that’s why I do a bake sale every year. 


I do a bake sale because I want to give to people who don’t have. 


What goes into your charity bake sales?

I make cinnamon rolls – pans and pans of them – pies, and cakes – oh my, at least 40 cakes. I do a lot of sales, so people ask, “Where does all the money go?”


So, where does it go?

I don’t want to name anybody, but it does go to places that take care of kids who don’t have a home.


And you’re doing that on top of your work.

Yeah, I’ll do it for Thanksgiving and Christmas.


The busiest time of year for you at Natalia’s. How much time do you spend doing that?

Day and night, day and night. Because I have to come in here and get my work done. Then I stay and work late for the next day. And then I go home and bake. Then I just do that over and over. 


Because I want kids to have what I did not have. I have been blessed. So, I have to pay it forward.


And that’s on top of being a mother and grandmother? 

Yes, I worked while I raised my two daughters, and now I help look after my grandkids. My oldest daughter went into the service, so her children stayed here with me while she was in Germany with the Army.


What’s next for you?

Well, I want to retire in July. I’m at the age I can retire now. But at Natalia’s, we’re more than a team. We’re a family, and our new chef is the best we’ve ever had. So, I still want to work here three days a week.