These days, she adheres to the strict technique of classic French cuisine, but the path leading up to today hasn't always been straight and narrow for Michelle Mattox. The same might be said for EDWINS, the upscale Shaker Square restaurant that doubles as a re-entry program for formerly incarcerated adults and those who have been touched by the justice system, where Mattox currently serves as head pastry chef.
When Mattox first learned of the program, which launched with the mission to provide job skills and immersive resources to those looking to make a change, it immediately resonated with her. She knew right where she needed to be.
After two decades of working fast-paced line cook positions around Cleveland, she enrolled in EDWINS and found herself gradually falling for the process-intensive craft of pastry making. Mattox emerged as a rising star in the classroom and in the kitchen and was hired on just before her graduation in July 2014.
"I do have plenty of patience," she says, punctuating it with a grin. "But I also make the best soufflé. It's all about timing."
Timing is everything to a patissier, just as it has always been an important part of the EDWINS mission to offer time for readjustment, time for growth and time for learning. And like the dozens who have passed through its doors and gone on to work in the bistro itself or other acclaimed restaurants throughout the city, Mattox's road was not without its obstacles.
"I had a lot of struggles of my own in my life, but also a lot of understanding and forgiveness," she recounts. "To be able to come here and see I wasn't a failure and have people look at me like a leader, that's a big step for me. I keep getting better every day."
Education does win, as the EDWINS moniker intentionally suggests, in Mattox's world. These days, one of her most important duties is to teach classes for incoming students.
"There's just this look on their faces when they finally get that perfect crème brulee or that perfect pyramid," Mattox says of finding her footing in mentorship. "I encourage them every time; I tell them 'I knew you could do it.'"
Mattox says that one day she might like to turn her skills toward her own entrepreneurial endeavor, just like her boss Brandon Chrostowski did when he founded EDWINS. But for now, she reflects fondly on the staggering difference one year can make.
"All I wanted to do was be successful and follow my goals," she says. "I came a long way from where I was and I think I'm doing all right."