Get to Know Us: Stella Parks, BraveTart
Editor's Note: Today's your chance to get to know Stella Parks, the genius behind Bravetart, who has guided us in the making of Fauxreos and homemade Fig Newtons, DIY 3 Musketeers bars, and more. Got questions for Stella? A request for copycat baking projects? Leave them in the comments.
Tell us about your pastry education. How did you get into baking?
At CIA, I specialized in baking and pastry which covers a lot of classic French technique, but also American regional baking, chocolate work and confectionery. I had some crash courses in the savory kitchen, how to make stock, how to break down a chicken. I spent all my time with sugar. I started baking with boxed cake mixes as a little kid. I mostly was into adding food color to the cake and frosting and making pretty things; I turned all of my class science projects into baking projects.
When did you start your blog? What inspired you?
I came in to blogging a little oddly, I think. My photographer friend Rosco decided he wanted to shoot more food photography so he started hanging out with me once a week to take pictures of whatever I had made. He enjoyed exploring a different side of photography, and I enjoyed seeing pictures of the things I'd made.
Making pretty dessert is my job, but those desserts always lived and died undocumented. Seeing them in a photo really energized me. After about six months, Rosco wanted to put a cookbook together and I was like, "holy crap that's way too much work." So we ended up compromising with a blog. That was late summer 2010.
What is your favorite dessert to make?
I love making ice cream sandwiches; they offer a lot of customization so I never get bored. But in spite of all the fancy possibilities, the Neapolitan one I made over the summer is probably my all time favorite.
What was the most memorable dessert you had last year?
I went to Tiny's and the Bar Upstairs the last time I was in New York. I'm twitter-friends with their pastry chef, Anna (@verysmallanna), and I've always longed to try her desserts because she seems exactly like my kinda girl/chef. So I went with my friends Francis and Ken and we ordered one of everything. So it wasn't just one dessert that was so memorable (well, her quince tart was killer), but the effect of having all of them at once that made it such a standout.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Cereal. It doesn't matter what kind. I will play the whole "just a splash more milk! Well, whoopsie just a bit more cereal" game until I've killed the box. Every time. I had to ban cereal from our house because I gain my chief pleasure in life from eating an entire box. Having "a bowl of cereal" is for quitters; I see boxes as individual serving sizes.
Describe your perfect meal.
My perfect meal has nothing to do with the food itself, but the circumstances. A lazy day off, spent hanging out with John, drinking wine and playing video games in between babysitting a pot of stew or a braise or something that doesn't have much active time. Crusty bread would have to be involved. I love sitting down to a meal when I've had a chance to anticipate it all day.
What food won't you eat?
Anything with a sharp anise or licorice flavor. I had an indescribably bad run-in with Absinthe when I lived in Japan (who knew real absinthe was legal there, haha!). Now, anything that even hints at being in the same flavor family churns my stomach.
What would you like to try but haven't yet?
Goose. Like a roast goose, not foie. I never see it on menus and it doesn't turn up at the grocery. I'll have to special order some...
Favorite food person?
This question is doing to my brain what dividing by zero does to a computer. I've lost forty five minutes of my life just trying to process it.
When did you first realize you were a serious eater?
I grew up in a family of serious eaters, so the bigger revelations was when I realized other people weren't. As a kid, I had a friend over at my house and asked her what she wanted to eat for a snack. She said, "I don't care." I couldn't fathom genuinely not caring about what you wanted to eat.
What do your family and friends think of your food obsessions?
I've worked in restaurants since I turned fourteen, went to culinary school straight out of high school, and have never held a non-restaurant job. This has severely tainted my friendship-pool in favor of crazed maniacs. My family pretty much regards me as a gravy train of dessert (ganache train?), so they're quite supportive.
Favorite food sites or blogs?
I make almost every single thing Ben posts on You Fed a Baby Chili? and I am waiting with bated breath for the next entry from Finding Sachi. As a twitter addict, I'd be remiss to not mention how I live for tweets from @adoxograph and @verysmallanna. Their professional words of wisdom keep me sane.
Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant recommendations. Who's yours?
I utterly rely on my best friend Pritters. She knows the best places to eat wherever you go from San Francisco to Chicago, New York and Vietnam. She knows the word on the street, any street. She's a sage of deliciousity.
And what's the best recommendation she's ever given you?
She took me to Prune for brunch on my last NYC trip and I had this bowl of carbonara I just can't stop thinking about. They executed every single element with extreme perfection, from the thickness of the the pasta to the grind of the pepper. I'm allergic to pork, so I got really, really sick after eating it. Completely worth it.
What is your favorite meal of the day and where do you get it?
Breakfast. My husband makes breakfast for me every morning along with a big pot of tea. It's the one meal of the day where I have zero participation. It's my safe place.
Do you ever cook savory food? What's the best dish you make?
I cook about half the time, but I am very uncomfortable with ingredients made out of not-sugar and not-chocolate. I don't know that I have a specific "best dish," but I love making fresh pasta. You can see I don't stray too far from my doughy baker roots.