The story begins with a brownie. It's not just any brownie, though. The Swank Desserts signature brownie is thick and layered, sweet and savory. It's made with dark chocolate, Nutella, salted caramel fudge, chunks of caramel, and sea salt baked into the top. When pastry chef and Swank Desserts owner Danetra Richardson hears that a writer on a no sweets diet will be taking the decadent delight back to the office, she smiles knowingly (said writer ended up wolfing the whole thing in the car), "I'm surprised, most people don't like to share."
The brownie was one of Richardson's first Swank Desserts experiments. The early brownie iterations were topped with caramel, but Richardson soon realized this made packaging the treats difficult. So she switched it up.
Richardson's adaptability, business acumen, and no-nonsense trial and error approach makes her a savvy entrepreneur; her experience in the kitchen makes her quite the chef. "I've always loved desserts," says Richardson. After getting a degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales in Charlotte, N.C., Richardson moved to the Holy City and worked at Magnolia's while pursuing a degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management at College of Charleston.
"When I was doing a business plan project for [Hospitality and Management] the professor said to think about a need," says Richardson. "And I thought 'well we definitely have enough restaurants, but not enough bakeries, dessert-only places.' That's where I came up with idea, decided 'this is what I want to do with my life.'"
Richardson started Swank Desserts, an online bakery and catering biz, in 2015. Working in a variety of F&B roles for so many years, Richardson was excited to embark on her own endeavor, but she also knew she needed a hobby, a safe haven in which to let it all go when the work grind became too much. That's when she discovered Amorous Dance Pole & Fitness Classes.
"I started taking pole dancing classes in 2012. People who work in F&B know how hard it is to be involved in something besides working. You go home, get rest, and go right back. I knew I needed to do something for me."
Check out the "chefdeeva" handle on Instagram — you'll see Richardson quite literally defying gravity on a pole. Richardson now teaches at Amorous a couple of times a week, instructing students in everything from flexibility and contortion classes to dance and pole classes. "When I'm there I feel like I can block out everything else that's going on in my life... You feel better about yourself, it's awesome. It's sexy and intense and it can be frustrating but empowering all at the same time."
- Jonathan Boncek
In between teaching women how to empower themselves — and stretch to the heavens — Richardson has been prepping for her sold out Charleston Wine + Food signature event, Winderlust, on March 1. This will be her third W+F appearance.
Her first festival was with The Ocean Course, where she was head of the pastry program. "I started at Ocean Course on the savory end," says Richardson. "But I've always loved sweets, and my heart was always with desserts, and I wanted to see more creative desserts. I didn't love baking at first, though. It's a lot more specific."
Richardson combined her love of sweet with her knowledge of savory for her dessert for that first festival: a sweet potato pound cake with pink peppercorn and caramelized white chocolate. "It was fun," says Richardson. "I like that crowd because they're going there to try something different and creative. I don't have to worry if it will sell or not. I felt like we needed more of a dessert presence at Wine+Food."
When we chatted with Richardson in January about her 2018 festival appearance, she said her only guidelines for Winderlust were to "make something that pairs well with wine." She wasn't sure what exactly she would come up with, but for someone who gleefully describes pole dancing and being able to push your body past its limits as "the most empowering feeling ever," we're pretty sure it will be divine.