Tandra Watkins, pastry chef at Ashley's and the Capital Bar & Grill.

Since 2007, executive pastry chef Tandra Watkins has been face of the the pastry program in the kitchen of Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel.

Now, after five successful years of making sweet treats for the high-end restaurant, Tandra is up for a very high honor from the prestigious James Beard Foundation, which has selected her as a semi-finalist for the 2013 title of Outstanding Pastry Chef. Talk about cool!
 
Tandra Watkins is a native of Arkansas who made her way through the entire program at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to perfect her skills. After school, she returned home and was handpicked to command the pastry kitchen at the Capital Hotel.

Not only is Watkins the only chef from Arkansas among the 20 semi-finalists in the pastry category, but she is also the only semi-finalist from all categories (a total of 421 nominees) representing the state this year.
 
The South is present in all of her pastry dishes, including favorites like Southern Pecan Pie with Brown Butter Ice Cream and Coconut French Toast with Fried Bananas and Lime.
 
Something else that Watkins is known for are her "Tandy Cakes"-- special wedding cakes that feature intricate details that are crafted from sugar, with each one telling a story, expressing bridal style as much as a gown or a signature flower. In addition to sugar flowers, she creates a perfect balance and composition in her arrangements of edible ribbons and lace appliqués, chocolate beading and tiers of all shapes and sizes.

Watkins' creations, which feature fresh, seasonal ingredients that are a multitude of colors, flavors and textures, combine her classical French skills with the soul of the South.

Nominees for the 2013 JBF Awards will be announced on Monday, March 18. Follow the foundation on Twitter to get up-to-the-minute awards news.