Sweet Home Alabama’s Queen of Pastry: Dolester Miles

Dol may be fluent in various styles of European baking, but she is Southern by nature. It was the Southern-inspired desserts of Highlands Bar & Grill that earned her the James Beard Award. Southern baking has long been relegated to the realm of homespun comfort food—beloved but lacking prestige. Dol is changing that. She represents the best parts of the South and what the region has to offer the world of pastry. Take Dol’s signature dessert, the coconut cake, of which she and her team now crank out 60 a day—double what they made before the award. Filled with toasted pecans and coated in luxurious chantilly cream, this dense cake ditches all things dainty for an indulgent revamp of the traditional Southern coconut cake. Dol proves that Southern classics can hold their own as upscale desserts and high forms of pastry.

She also shares her knowledge of pastry, mentoring dozens of bakers who have worked in her kitchen through the years and gone on to lead successful pastry programs and run bakeries of their own. Dol trains her team much in the same way her mother and aunt first taught her—imparting patience, instilling confidence, and always remembering to have a little fun. She always sings “Happy Birthday to You” to staff members on their birthdays. “That smile and deep laugh set the tone for the day,” says Pardis.

Many chefs long for the limelight, seeking accolades for affirmation. Dol has never sought recognition. She’s not in it for the glamour or glory. Her greatest honor is seeing people enjoy her creations. If you’re ever dining at Bottega Café for lunch, you may see her peeking in from the kitchen. “I like to see all the clean plates and the expressions people make while eating my desserts,” Dol says. “To me, it is the most important part of the meal when you are dining out. Dessert is what you remember.”

Dol hustles until around 2 p.m. After the lunch crowd dies down, she heads home. Maybe she’ll call her grandbabies or watch Barefoot Contessa. This is a day in the life of Dol. Rise, bake, repeat. It’s been this way for more than three decades since she became pastry chef at Bottega—though there have been some changes since that exciting awards night last April. A towering stack of fan mail now awaits her at home, where her James Beard medallion hangs in the kitchen.

Accolades and all, she’s still the same Dol: humble as ever with a 100-watt smile and velvety Southern accent. Dol brings originality to all she does—from the way she twirls up dessert to the way she carries herself. She’s always wearing statement earrings, even when buttoned up in her chef’s coat, elbow-deep in flour. Dol is unapologetically who she is.

A self-taught baker now stands shoulder to shoulder with the best pastry chefs in the world. Finally, someone who doesn’t normally crave the spotlight is realizing she deserves to be in it. “I never thought my name and ‘James Beard Award’ would ever be in the same sentence,” Dol says. “Then I look at my award and think, ‘Well, maybe it is my time.’”

It’s high time.

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