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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Mohegan Sun’s pastry team does it all, from banquet desserts to cake for Elton John

    Working at Mohegan Sun’s Sky bake shop executive pastry chef Lynn Mansel puts together a sample of what will be served at a future event at the Sun. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Lynne Labossiere works on putting together trays for banquet parties at Mohegan Sun’s Sky bake shop on Feb. 15. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Lynne Labossiere works on putting together trays for banquet parties at Mohegan Sun on Feb. 15. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Carlos Rodriguez works on making heart doughnuts for The Crafty Stir Café at Mohegan Sun’s Sky bake shop. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Carlos Rodriguez works on making heart doughnuts for The Crafty Stir Café at Mohegan Sun. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Debbie Hoctor works on plating blueberry pies for Sachem Lounge at Mohegan Sun’s Sky bake shop. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    The doors are barely noticeable, innocuously tucked away into the wall not far from the iconic Chihuly glass sculpture at Mohegan Sun. But stepping through them is like traveling via a portal into a different, bustling, sweet-scented world.

    In the Sky pastry shop, people dressed in white chef’s jackets are focused on creating an eye-popping, mouthwatering array of desserts. One worker pushes a tall cart holding countless pies. Another is bent over, working on an intricate delicacy. Trays contain artfully created cannoli and cookies and what look like tiny cheesecakes topped with whipped cream and a strawberry slice.

    This is where so many of the confections served at Mohegan Sun are made. You might sample these creations at expos. Or if you ordered room service from a Sun hotel room. Or if you were hanging out in the Sachem Lounge.

    Lynn Mansel, the Sun’s executive pastry chef and director of culinary, says, “I want to make sure that when people come in, they say, ‘Wow, what a great meal we had at Mohegan Sun.’”

    It’s a two-pronged effort: make both the presentation and the flavor sensational.

    “When your eyes have told you, ‘This is unbelievable,’ you need to get the taste buds to say the same thing,” he says.

    Performers who play the Arena are treated to these sweets, too — before the show and then afterward, for the buses as the artists leave for the next destination. When Elton John was giving a concert at the Sun, he was gifted with a birthday cake that Mansel made in the shape of a crocodile playing a piano, a nod to John’s song “Crocodile Rock.”

    On a recent day, some of the work involved preparing desserts for the Connecticut Cancer Foundation banquet, which was expected to bring in about 750 people. The foundation comes to the Sun annually, so Mansel says they try to do something different each time. This year, he suggested to the foundation folks using mulberries and blueberries — fruit that has a reputation as being cancer-fighting; they agreed. So mulberry and blueberry mousse was part of the plate, which boasted multiple elements, including a mini French double-flavor lemon and mulberry blue macaron. The chefs also created an edible white-chocolate version of the foundation’s logo for every plate.

    “Everything on the plate is 100% edible, the whole thing. That’s the goal, always,” Mansel says.

    Putting together a multi-element dessert often works like this: The team, in two areas, builds 40 to 52 plates at a time. Each team member has a piece of the dessert and essentially walks in a large circle, dropping that piece on a plate. It takes them about an hour and a half to create 1,000 desserts when each contains six to eight parts.

    Chris Greaney, Mohegan Sun’s director of fine dining, says it would probably surprise people “how much we’re absolutely producing ourselves with just a really small team (Mansel says they currently number in the teens) … They’re really fantastic, all the chefs. They do incredible work.”

    Discussing the impressive output, Greaney notes that since the Sun’s Crafty Stir fusion coffee shop opened a little over a year ago, it has sold almost 14,000 muffins, more than 20,000 bagels and 12,000 enormous cupcakes — all made by the folks in the Sun’s pastry shop.

    “They’re involved with so many things. They support banquets, special events, Crafty Stir, Tuscany with our brunch, Novelle with special occasions, our lounges,” Greaney says.

    They do so much on a normal, day-to-day basis, but then also take on events like New Year’s Eve or Halloween parties.

    ‘Doing something new again’

    Mansel says he loves his job.

    “When people say, ‘What do you do every day?’ every day is different depending on what comes into the building,” he says.

    Mansel has been with Mohegan Sun since its opening in 1996.

    “Twenty-six years has flown. Why? Because this footprint has grown so much. Each year, you’re thinking, ‘I’m going to leave next year.’ Before you know it, we’re doing something new again. So it’s like a new job all the time. It’s like creating something new, doing something new, pushing the limit of it,” he says.

    Mansel says the job has expanded over the years. When he started, the venue was just the Earth casino. In 2000-2001, the Sun built its Sky addition. It was a huge challenge to train in the smaller Earth kitchen for the larger Sky, where they would quadruple their output.

    “We didn’t have the space to train so we were just winging it,” he says.

    ‘You’re supposed to have fun’

    Here’s another example of a recent responsibility for the pastry shop: For Super Bowl Sunday a few weeks ago, the Sun invite 1,000 people to an event in the Uncas Ballroom. The pastry team did five smallish desserts for each individual, figuring that would be the average intake per person; some might have more, some less. They also made 450 cupcakes decorated in honor of the two competing football teams for a Super Bowl party in Sportsbook.

    “When you’re coming to Mohegan Sun, what are you coming for? Entertainment, eat, enjoy your day,” Mansel says. “If you’re on a diet, you blew it. You don’t care today because you’re coming in to have fun today. ‘I’ll do the diet tomorrow, but today – pfft, it’s out the window.’ … You’re supposed to have fun. Life is way too short.”

    Years ago, a Sun executive wanted Mansel to create a sugar-free, low-fat buffet section. Mansel said no. People are “coming in to cheat today because tomorrow they’re back on it,” he says.

    Sometimes, Mansel has to explain to a customer what will and what won’t work. One business holding its banquet at the Sun wanted slices of pie as part of the dessert. Mansel said if you put a piece of pie on a plate, it weeps and makes a mess. The folks in the Sun kitchen would be cutting the pie 50 minutes or an hour and a half before the pieces would be served and would then have to push it on a cart for ¼ of a mile from the kitchen to the ballroom, which would only shake up the pie more.

    Mansel’s solution: put an apple pie interior in a tart shell that’s in the shape of a pie wedge, and then top it with streusel.

    Big ideas

    Mohegan Sun is known for going big, and the pastry team is no exception. When the Sun held a mass wedding in 2004, the pastry team made nearly 100 three-tier wedding cakes. Mansel also designed a giant cake for the event that made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest wedding cake. It weighed more than 15,000 pounds.

    Another “think big” construction has become an annual holiday tradition and visitor favorite: the gingerbread house that’s so big people can walk inside it.

    And here’s an outside mammoth undertaking: Mansel was invited to Fort Benning in Georgia to make a cake shaped like — and was the size of — a tank. It was 32,000 pounds, featuring strawberry shortcake and sand-colored frosting.

    The path to Mohegan Sun

    Mansel, who grew up in Wales, earned his culinary degree in pastry from the City & Guilds of London Institute. He worked in hotels in the UK before coming to the U.S., where he was the opening executive pastry chef for Hotel Meridien in Boston and then Westin Copley Place in Boston.

    Greaney says, “I think with nowadays with how social media is and what guests are expecting out of restaurants, (Mansel) adds that extra touch, that extra panache to really solidify an event.”

    What the pastry shop chefs create is art, Greaney says. And with a bake shop on site, the Sun guests experience really fresh ingredients and creations.

    “It looks great and it tastes great,” Greaney says. “It makes you want to come back more and more and more.”

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