As American as apple pie

Editor's note: If you're planning a visit to the museum after Thanksgiving, save room for dessert—and check the hours of our cafés. In today's post, Kathy Sklar profiles German Villoreal, the man behind our delicious pastries. 

We are a museum of stories, and sometimes the best stories come from within our own ranks. Over the years, I have learned a great deal about the staff that works in our museum's very busy kitchen. German Villoreal, our head pastry and dessert chef, has a great tale to tell.

ead Pastry Chef German Villoreal pauses for a brief moment while baking pies for the museum’s cafe.
Head Pastry Chef German Villoreal pauses for a brief moment while baking pies for the museum’s cafe.

Thirty years ago German Villoreal came to Washington, D.C. for a vacation. He visited from Bolivia, where he had a successful career as a civil engineer, and was busy with the day-to-day business of building bridges and roads. German came to see the sites and visit his family, and he really liked what he saw. German took a leave of absence and finally quit his job in Bolivia, making Washington his home.

A flag pastry for Election Day
A flag pastry for Election Day

German could not work as an engineer and build bridges here, so he went to work as a pastry chef and built fabulous cakes and desserts. As you might imagine, that was not an easy transition, but German doesn’t do "easy." During the day, he worked full-time in a restaurant. At night, he worked another full-time job managing a hotel housekeeping staff. Yes, that is 80 hours each week of dedication and determination. German learned on the job, and became very skilled.

"The first month was very difficult and I wanted to quit, but my brother in law, who also worked in the restaurant, wouldn't let me," he said. After that, things got better. He went from following others to creating his own wonderful desserts. For those of you who know the city of Washington, you'll be impressed to learn that for many years German was the man who baked the famed Rum Buns for Hogate's Restaurant!

Today, a glance at the dessert table in the Stars and Stripes Café continues to be proof of his skill—on any day you might find trifles, crème brulee, luscious layer cake, pies, macaroons, and tarts. "I like to use ingredients that are fresh and in season," he says. Right now, he is rolling out dough, peeling apples and chopping bushels of nuts for traditional Thanksgiving desserts. Chef German, a hard working and successful immigrant, is as American as apple pie!

Enjoy this slideshow of German's desserts below or on Flickr.

Kathy Sklar is the business program manager at the National Museum of American History. In the past, she has blogged about "Thanksgiving in a Can" and the grooviest place on the National Mall.