Chef Susie Wolak knows a thing or two about dessert.
After attending culinary school at the College of Dupage, the Lisle High School graduate worked as executive pastry chef for the Metropolitan Club in Chicago and at the Hilton in Northbrook. She furthered her education taking classes at the Chicago Wine School and at the Alliance for Françoise-French Culture and Language. Now, as the pastry chef mentor for the Hoffman Estates-based Escoffier Online Culinary Academy, she shares her knowledge with food enthusiasts around the country.
Chef Wolak lives in Park Ridge with her husband, chef Doug Green who owns All On The Road Catering in Park Ridge, and their puppy, Blu Remy.
How did you decide to become a pastry chef? It's really all I have ever done. I started working in a hotel pastry kitchen and I knew right away this something I wanted to do.
What is your role as a chef mentor? I work with the students (online) guiding them through the program, giving them advice and answering any questions they may have. As a mentor I reach out to my students on a regular basis and I am always available for personal conversation. When they are finished, we also help them with resume writing and interview practice.
What five tips do you have for amateur bakers? Have your mise en place -- all of your ingredients measured out and ready to go -- this is so helpful to ensure accuracy and will save a lot of time too. Measure your ingredients accurately. Stick with it: things are not always going to turn out the first time you make them.
Taste your food. And, have fun.
What is the most meaningful dessert you have ever made? I recently made my mom's 80th birthday cake and that was very meaningful as is anything special I make for my family. Some of the chefs from the school were at Great Lakes Navel Base for a Fourth of July barbecue and we prepared Peach Melba and Strawberries Escoffier for our servicemen and women; that was a complete honor.
How picky are you when it comes to ingredients? I find myself using more and more organic ingredients. I like to use superfine sugar in my baking; I think it dissolves better. I like to use Madagascar Bourbon vanilla because of its smooth, creamy flavor. I also prefer to use vanilla beans; they have such a nice true flavor. For chocolate, I like to use couverture chocolate (high quality chocolate with a high butter cocoa butter content).
What is your take on reality baking shows like "Cupcake Wars"? I enjoy the shows on the Food Network; they are entertaining and I really love the exposure they give to the industry and all of the creativity and innovation shown.
Who has influenced you the most in your career? My husband. He's very supportive of anything I do and I can always count on him for an honest opinion. He tells me when things are good and when they are not.
What is your favorite dessert? I like any desserts made with puff pastry. I love the crisp flakiness and the butter flavor.
Tell us about this recipe: Pumpkin Creme Brulee. When making crème brulees it's good to be mindful to put enough water in the pan so the crème brulees are baking slowly in a water bath the whole time. Madeira wine goes well with the pumpkin crème brûlée, as would any late harvest wines made from white grapes such as Chenin Blanc or Muscat.
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