This week’s Friendor Friday is all about Melissa, owner of Chefin! Her delicious and beautiful treats will make any wedding or event that much sweeter (see what I did there?).
When and how did you decide to become a pastry chef?
Although I considered baking one of my favorite hobbies when I was a kid, I actually decided to study Psychology in college. During my first trip back home for Thanksgiving break, I found myself drawn to my parents kitchen and realizing how much I missed baking. After I returned to school to finish the semester, I contacted culinary schools and called to tell my parents that I wanted to be a Chef. I was enrolled in culinary school a few months later!
Since then I’ve earned an Associate’s in Baking and Pastry Arts, a Bachelor’s in Hospitality Management, and MBA. I created pastries and managed restaurants for both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Now, in addition to running Chefin, I teach Baking and Pastry courses at The Art Institute.
How did you become “Chefin”?
I’ve always been drawn to the wedding industry and had the desire to be the sweetest part of a couple’s wedding day. My favorite pastry item to create has always been centerpieces, whether they were made from chocolate, sugar, or even bread. I started treating the pastries I produce like centerpieces. And thus, Chefin was born! I strive to create elaborately themed dessert tables and celebration cakes, treating each one like a centerpiece. After all, they really serve as a focal point at the wedding. Each one is a stunning work of art that is in some way a reflection of the couple.
As for the name “Chefin” I have my love of travel to blame. My husband and I were at Oktoberfest in Munich, where they sell Lebkuchen (gingerbread hearts with sayings piped on them). Of course, being a Pastry Chef, I thought they were adorable! They also sold pins that looked like Lebkuchen. I spotted one that said “Chef” and knew I needed it as a souvenir. When I went to buy one, I asked if they had a Chef pin in pink and they told me they only had “Chefin” since that was the female version of Chef in German. Once I decided to start my business, I thought no name was more appropriate than Chefin.
Who are some of your inspirations?
Ewald Notter has always been my biggest pastry inspiration. I think he is quite simply the best sugar artist in the world! I was fortunate enough to take a chocolate centerpiece class with him several years ago.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
I love the creativity that is involved with being a Pastry Chef. It is a constantly evolving field since trends are always changing. There are always new techniques to learn.
Oh, I should probably also mention that I love getting to eat pastries…..like every single day! Not only am I always trying the products I make, but I have a passion for going to fine restaurants and keeping up with the trends throughout our industry. I am a complete foodie!
What are your favorite kitchen gadgets?
My two most used gadgets are my pink Kitchen Aid mixer and a pink rubber spatula. Both were given to me as a gift from my Mom when I was in Culinary School and both are still used to this day for at least 90% of my recipes. I have so many spatulas, but I will go out of my way to wash that pink one to be able to use it because I love it so much!
What is your typical work day?
When you’re a Pastry Chef there is no typical! Every day is different, just as every cake is different. I’m not going to lie; Pastry Chefs pull long hours to make sure everything is as fresh as possible for the wedding. Most days leading up to a wedding are about 12-14 hour days in the kitchen. The morning of the wedding usually requires me to be up at a super early hour to finish baking fresh pastries. But that’s why working with a Pastry Chef is so great. We are dedicated to the providing beautiful products that are oh, so fresh.
Ganache! Ganache is so incredibly delicious! I mean, chocolate emulsified with heavy cream and flavored with infused alcohols like Bailey’s or Kahlua….how can you go wrong? Not to mention, it’s one of the most versatile ingredients in the pastry shop.
Favorite trends? A trend you wouldn’t mind seeing left behind?
My favorite trend right now is metallic cakes. I love utilizing edible gold or silver to make a shimmery cake!
A trend to leave behind…..cake pops. Most people I know don’t actually like the flavor of them (although they are adorable!) I recommend brownie pops instead. Still equally adorable, but filled with a flavor no one will fight you on!
Any common myths about pastry chefs? If so, how much truth is there to them?
Pastry Chef is synonymous with Perfectionist! For me, this is 100% true. I also notice this with my best pastry students. To us, everything we make is an art form, so we’re always striving to make it better and can be very hard on ourselves. But for the client, that’s probably the best thing they can ask for. They know their cake is being made by someone who is their own toughest critic.
Favorite hobbies and non-work related things you enjoy doing?
I am a travel junkie and salt water enthusiast! My favorite thing to do is travel. I love experiencing different cultures, and most of all, experiencing cuisines from around the world! We’ve traveled to Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Morocco, and South Africa, to name a few places. Traveling is my greatest passion in life because there’s much to learn from it. On a more weekly basis, you’re likely to find me on the water. We love to go out on our boat and jet ski, or get a great workout on the paddleboard or kayak.
Your favorite dessert to eat yourself?
A better question is probably if there are any desserts that I don’t like…. But, I am a traditionalist. I love the desserts we had as kids like brownies, lemon squares, ice cream, and even Rice Krispy squares. I’m glad macarons have become so accessible because they are always delish! And I’m a sucker for anything pumpkin flavored!
Check out this beautiful cake Melissa made for a stylized Tampa wedding session we had in Ybor city! Check out the full gallery HERE.