Pastries and Performance
Featuring Lady Ashton Warren
Photography by Rose Callahan
Words by Laura Neilson
Whether she’s creating delectable vegan desserts by day, or onstage performing burlesque at night, Lady Ashton Warren owns her “Lady” designation with unflappable poise.
It’s hard to imagine Lady Ashton Warren—a commanding, scarlet-haired burlesque performer by night, and a soft-spoken vegan baker by day—without the designation “Lady.” It was, in fact, only in 2008 when chef Marc Forgione honored Warren with the title at his namesake Tribeca restaurant. Warren, who was working there as a hostess, had so impressed the chef with her homemade chocolate cake recipe, that he put the confection on the restaurant’s dessert menu. “He named it ‘Lady Ashton’s Chocolate Cake,’” she recalls. Warren, who eventually became the restaurant’s executive pastry chef, has since moved on to other endeavors—namely burlesque performing, and creating vegan pastries and other plant-based delights at the Fragile Flour, a plant-based bakery and wine bar in downtown Manhattan—but ‘Lady,’ which is tattooed in cursive on Warren’s inner arm, remains.
The Florida native first arrived in New York to study fashion design at the city’s reputed Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). After graduating with a focus in bridalwear, Warren split her attention between fashion and baking, per the advice of a mentor. “They said that I should find two things that I love, because if I get bored of one, I can fall back on the other.” These days, it’s clear that Warren is indeed pursuing two vocations that she loves. And while fashion has taken a backseat to burlesque, that training has been considerably advantageous, too. “I make my own costumes,” she says.
My signature cake is also my namesake.
I was working as a hostess at the restaurant Marc Forgione in Tribeca, when the 2008 recession hit. We actually lost two or three pastry chefs in the first few months we were open. I remember seeing a table of women sharing a piece of chocolate cake, and they didn’t finish it. There’s no reason why a group of women shouldn’t finish a piece of chocolate cake, so I asked Marc if I could make my version. He ended up putting it on the menu, and that’s how my namesake came about: he named it Lady Ashton’s Chocolate Cake.
I’ve been doing burlesque for about 10 years.
Every Friday after service, I would go see live jazz and burlesque nearby. I always wanted to be one of those pretty, sparkly people. I eventually left the restaurant and needed an outlet completely outside the kitchen.
Burlesque is maybe the most freeing experience I've ever had. You’re in the lead. You have control over the entire room. And it’s on your terms—the art of the ‘tease.’ When you’re taking something off, you can decide how long you want to take it off, how you want to take it off, and where to direct attention.
Onstage, you become a completely different character. Some of the best performers I know are shy or socially awkward, but when they’re performing, you would never know.
My stage name is Dandy Dillinger.
A ‘dandy’ is a well-dressed man. And of course having an androgynous name like ‘Ashton’ gave me a lot of character growing up, so I wanted a name that was kind of gender-neutral too. I love true crime, and John Dillinger was a notorious badass. So a well-dressed badass is who Dandy Dillinger is.
I make all my own costumes, and all my headdresses. I’ve always been obsessed with history, and the 20s, 30s—the Ziegfeld Follies. Most of my costumes have giant headdresses, and they’re based on paintings and illustrations. I pull a lot of inspiration from Mucha and Erté. Their work is just breathtaking.
In fashion school, you’re taught to stand out, hold your own, and make a name for yourself. And in culinary school and restaurant kitchens, you wear a uniform and look the same as everyone else. Having burlesque as an outlet gives me the ability to still express that creative part of myself.
Everyone deserves dessert.
I’ve been a vegetarian since 2007. At the bakery, the desserts are plant-based. Sometimes I enjoy working within those parameters, because there’s always something new to figure out. Sometimes it can actually mean less steps in the end.
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