Do not skip the dessert course at Tiny Lou’s — the ground floor brasserie inside the newly-renovated Hotel Clermont on Ponce de Leon. When it comes time to order something sweet, ask the server for the menu of desserts by pastry chef Claudia Martinez. At 25 years old, the young chef is creating some of Atlanta’s most innovative and beautifully-plated desserts.
Martinez began her culinary career on the savory side of the kitchen, working at chef Linton Hopkins’ Peachtree Road flagship Restaurant Eugene. While there, Martinez met pastry chef Aaron Russell who played up the savory elements in the desserts he prepared for the restaurant.
“I started to work closely with Aaron. I was curious about how he incorporated savory ingredients into desserts,” says Martinez. “I’m not a big fan of dessert, but working with Aaron got me thinking...not all desserts and pastries need to be sugary sweet.”
Under Russell, she learned to create elements like celery ganache and work ingredients such as citrus fruit and beets into her desserts.
Martinez eventually left Eugene and traveled to Sweden where she worked under sous and pastry chef David Vidal for a month at Laholmen Hotel in Strömstad. Martinez says she soon found pastries to be particularly freeing. They allow her to manipulate flavors, play with textures, and maybe even be a little tacky in presentation, too.
“David taught me to not overthink my desserts and, especially, my pastries. Pastries were not my strong suit in culinary school,” she admits. “He taught me to go for it, to let go, and not be afraid to experiment with ingredients and flavor combinations.”
Upon returning to Atlanta, Martinez worked a brief stint at Atlas in Buckhead. One day she received a call from a friend regarding a pastry chef position overseeing the desserts at Indigo Road’s Donetto, O-Ku, and their new restaurant, Tiny Lou’s.
She met with Tiny Lou’s executive chef Jeb Aldrich over coffee to discuss the position—a position Martinez felt at the time she wasn’t ready to tackle yet in her career.
“Jeb and I just clicked. It was like he already knew me and trusted me. The next thing I know, I’m doing a tasting at Donetto for everyone in the company, including the owner. I was so nervous.”
She was quickly offered the job overseeing the dessert programs for all three restaurants.
Martinez creates desserts for Tiny Lou’s that are inspired by the Hotel Clermont’s long and often sordid past as well as her own Venezuelan background. This includes an homage to Atlanta’s most revered adult entertainer, Blondie; who dances nightly crushing beer cans between her breasts at the Clermont Lounge beneath the French restaurant. The dessert features a brown butter blondie with curried bananas flambé, buttermilk ice cream, and hazelnut crémeux.
The rich and decadent chocolate Royale is already a menu mainstay, made with mousse consisting of Venezuelan chocolate served with coffee cream, biscuit joconde, and cardamom ganache.
The gypsy tart is inspired by the 1950s dancer for whom the restaurant is named. Martinez calls it her “most approachable and simple” dessert. An English pastry that, by all accounts, was born from what was found in the pantry. Martinez’s version features muscovado custard, fresh raspberries and blueberries, and toasted meringue inside a vanilla sable pastry.
The classic Crêpes Suzette cake on the menu at Tiny Lou’s contains 32 crepes. Martinez had to streamline the crepe-making process in order to generate all of those crepes, which she makes daily.
One of the most popular desserts at Tiny Lou’s, the crème de fraises, is no longer on the menu, but illustrates perfectly Martinez’s ability to combine ingredients and flavors that seem as though they shouldn’t work together.
“When you bite into the strawberry mousse, it takes you back to having a glass of strawberry milk as a kid,” Martinez says of the dessert. “Then there’s all of these layers of flavors from the basil lime sorbet and its acidity to the black pepper crumble with a bit of spice and texture until, finally, the vanilla cream consommé—it all works.”
The crème de fraises is a no-waste dessert—the tops of the strawberries serve as part of the base to create the stock for the consommé. It could return to the menu next strawberry season. The dessert menu at Tiny Lou’s will eventually rotate regularly with the seasons, just as Aldrich’s dinner menu.
Martinez is currently working on a dessert to replace the crème de fraises called the Moulin Rouge. The dessert will likely incorporate a lot of black and deep red hues. That’s all she’s willing to reveal at the moment.
“It’s a lot of work, but we have a great team at Tiny Lou’s. We’re still growing the desserts and pastries here, but I think we’re finally finding our groove. For me, it’s great to see smiles on the faces of guests in the dining room when they take that first bite of dessert. That’s extremely satisfying and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here in such a short amount of time.”