By Tina Whelski

In today’s highly visual world, pastry chefs can stand out with unique sugar sculptures.

“I notice that people remember me more for my airbrush than my cake,” says Master Pastry Chef Stéphane Tréand, M.O.F. with a laugh. The recipient of the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France, (M.O.F.), which means “best craftsman in France,” can’t wait to share his techniques with students who attend his Sugar Showpieces workshop this September 23-25 at ICE. Tréand believes that anyone can create their own work of art if they put in the time.

Stephane Treand

photo courtesy of thepastryschool.org

“Sugar work is not only for chefs, says Tréand. “It’s for everybody. Hopefully I can fill up the class with artistic amateurs.”

Students will learn airbrushing, casting, pulled ribbon, pulled sugar flowers and much more. Tréand advises beginners to use silicon molds, work with isomalt, wear plastic gloves and use lots of stencils when airbrushing. He’s also noticed a trend in the United States to build showpieces that can stand as tall as seven feet high, but he suggests that newcomers start slow with mini showpieces. And as with any craft, attitude is everything.

Stephane Treand“My philosophy is never give up, share and always want to learn,” says Tréand. “You have to be curious. You can always improve the way you’re doing pastry. Believe me, I’m still learning.”

Tréand discovered sugar showpieces in the 1970s when he saw another chef construct a Singer sewing machine made entirely of sugar.

“I was very impressed by how the cast iron was made of sugar,” said Tréand. “I was like, ‘Wow, how can you do that with sugar?’ I remember thinking that if I do something theatrical, like a showpiece, people will remember that, because it’s visual.”

Since most showpieces in the mid-80s were replicas of existing objects, like the Eiffel Tower, Tréand focused on more abstract shapes to distinguish himself.

Today, Tréand finds inspiration for designs everywhere.

“Driving on the freeway sometimes you see a structure and say, ‘Well, that’s a nice bridge’ and of course the background we have in France is of beautiful churches or art from the last few centuries mixed with European art deco,” says Tréand. “There are many things that we mix. Some chefs even find inspiration in tribal tattoos.”

Tréand warns that sugar sculptures should not get “too weird” though.

“People like to recognize what it is,” says Tréand. “You always need to be careful and do something that people can find themselves in.”

He’s practiced his own advice to great success. Tréand was named one of Dessert Professional’s Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America in 2007 and 2008. In 2009, he coached the bronze-winning USA team (which consisted of three of his former assistants) at the International Pastry Competition in Tokyo. Currently, he’s the executive chef consultant for Occitanial, a pastry shop in Tokyo, and he runs his own school in California, Art of Pastry Academy.

The greatest moment of Tréand’s career, however, remains the day he earned his M.O.F., the highest title anyone can get in an artisan manual trade in France.

“That’s my first moment of pride in my whole life,” says Tréand. ”I got it after three tries. My first final was in 1997. I failed. I failed again in 2000 and finally I got it in 2004. When you get it on the third time, it’s even more important because you know the value of it. Finally you’ve got it, and you know you’ve got it forever.”

Tréand finds that his students feel their own sense of pride when they complete their first showpieces.

“When they do something and realize, ‘Oh my goodness, I did that with my fingers and it’s pretty nice,’ they feel proud,” says Tréand. “They feel happy and that’s all we need, just feeling happy.”

Tréand is grateful he discovered the artistic side of pastry because it gives him the chance to do something new every day.

“I think it’s fun,” says Tréand. “It’s freedom. It’s creation.”

Space is limited — click here to register today for Chef Tréand’s Sugar Showpieces workshop at ICE.

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The Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS) at ICE is designed for current industry professionals looking to expand their skill sets. These single- and multi-day continuing education workshops are taught by master chefs and critically acclaimed artists from around the globe. 

ICE is excited to welcome back Karen Portaleo to teach the upcoming CAPS course Carved Cake: Ballerina Pig on June 2. Karen is a celebrated cake and chocolate artist who creates fantastical cakes at Highland Bakery in Atlanta, Georgia. She has appeared on numerous television shows including Food Network’s Cake Challenge and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and her work has appeared in various publications like Cake Central Magazine and National Geographic. Karen’s client list includes Sir Elton John, Usher, Jane Lynch, T-Pain, Demi Moore, AMC’s The Walking Dead, CNN and The W Hotel.

ballerina pig

photos courtesy of http://www.karenportaleo.com/

In anticipation of Karen’s class, we chatted with her about her work in the pastry world and what she has in store for students in her cake carving class at ICE.

You’ve worked as a jewelry designer, a clay sculptor and a set designer — what inspired you to enter the world of cake?

Originally, it was desperation that motivated me to begin working with cake. I was recently separated and a newly single mom. The prop and set design company I had run for 17 years was suffering from the effects of a bad economy and shrunken budgets. A friend opened a bakery and I decided to ask if I could decorate and sell cookies there. This would give me the flexibility to stay home with my young daughter. Initially they said no, but persistence paid off. Soon I was frosting cupcakes, then cakes and it all took off from there. I call it my accidental career. But it just goes to show: opportunity can show up in very unexpected places.

What would you say is your signature style when it comes to designing a cake?

I would say my style is whimsical and very sculptural. I rarely make tiered cakes anymore — I’ve paid those dues already! My work is often described as “dark,” but that’s not my general aesthetic. I think my work falls into the category of cakes that don’t look like cakes.

If you’re given “carte blanche” to create a cake, where do you look for inspiration?

Usually I’ve had an idea rolling around in my head and am just waiting for a paying customer. There’s not always a rational explanation for the inspiration. For example, I woke up a few weeks ago and thought it might be fun to make a Humpty Dumpty cake. While I wait for an event, I get to dream up all the details and structure to make the piece exactly as I want it to be.

Tell us about the most challenging project you’ve worked on recently

I recently travelled to Palm Beach to create a very large cake for a client. As is sometimes the case, I can’t disclose the name of the client or details about the cake. However, I can say that it involved 40 full sheets of cake, 120 pounds of buttercream, 110 pounds of fondant and 64 pounds of modeling chocolate. There were a number of challenges with this cake. For one, the structure was very complex. Also, when creating a huge cake, you still have to bear in mind that it has to fit through doorways and into a van. This often means that the cake is made in big sections and then assembled onsite. Every large event involves a bit of chaos in the hours immediately preceding it, so showing up with large cakes that need to be assembled can be stressful for everyone. That’s why a lot of planning goes into the structure, as it must all fit together well and quickly. Not to mention, the cake needs to be fresh, moist and delicious, so this usually means a few sleepless nights of mad stacking, carving and fondant work. Delivery is always a tense time and this cake, in all its pieces, had to be carried quite a distance over walkways, stairs and ramps. But one of the most challenging things about this cake is that for all the planning and hard work, I can’t share any pictures! Still, it was pretty fabulous.

Karen Portaleo

Karen with one of her whimsical creations

What would you say are the most important skills for your craft?

I think the skills I rely on most heavily come from my background in art. I went to art school and have had many previous careers in the visual arts. My grandfather was a pastry chef and I grew up in bakeries, but I have no specific culinary training. My reputation springs more from the visual aspect of the cake than the cake itself. That being said, I’m extremely demanding about flavor and quality. I encourage my students, especially those who are in culinary school, to spend some time in art classes as well. Understanding how to successfully sculpt a three-dimensional object, as well as a solid understanding of color theory, are a few really valuable skills in today’s cake world.

What new techniques can students expect to learn from your upcoming course at ICE?

In my course, students will learn to create a structure for a seemingly gravity-defying cake. They will also learn to make and sculpt with modeling chocolate, how to create “clothing” with fondant, painting on chocolate, painting on fondant and creating small details that add a higher level of visual interest to a cake. I encourage my students to get creative with the design of their piece. I will be teaching the skills, but I like my students to create their own design using their own vision. I believe that this encourages a higher level of learning and creativity, as students need to do a bit of problem solving on their own. I’m a firm believer that taking risks and figuring out how to execute certain details is an excellent way to really learn on a deeper level.

Because CAPS classes require individual attention to each student’s project, class sizes are limited — click here to reserve your spot today.

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Interview by Carly Evans

Inspiration can happen at any moment. For Scott Green, Executive Pastry Chef at The Langham Hotel Chicago and one of Dessert Professional’s Top Ten Pastry Chefs of 2016, his life-changing moment of inspiration occurred back when he was a student with a scholarship to study fine arts in Chicago, while watching a pastry documentary. Shortly after, he switched from fine arts to pastry arts and never looked back. As Chef Scott explains, “One moment of inspiration propelled me along a path as a pastry professional that has spanned more than fifteen years and taken me around the world.”

Chef_Scott_GreenWe chatted with Chef Scott about his craft, the next culinary destination and his advice for pastry students.

You have won many awards for your talent in pastry — which was the most challenging competition for you?

My first team competition, the National Pastry Team Championship in 2011, was probably the most challenging. Although I had other competitions under my belt, this was my first team event and first competition at such a high level. Competitions of that nature demand a completely different set of skills in terms of how you work, how you organize, etc., so getting prepared was a steep learning curve. Just a few months beforehand, I felt very underprepared, but we really pulled it together as a team (Josh Johnson, Donald Wressell, Della Gossett and myself) and ended up winning first place. Getting through those circumstances was trial by fire and definitely prepared me for future competitions.

Your restaurant Travelle is in Chicago, a city that has risen as a leading destination for food and drink. Which U.S. city do you see as being the “next” Chicago in terms of a culinary destination?

I don’t know that a city can claim that title. So much has changed and is changing about the restaurant industry — how chefs interpret the dining experience, new definitions of eating out like “fine casual” and food trucks, the prohibitive costs of real estate in major U.S. cities, consumers’ expectations — and the list goes on. It’s changing the fabric of how people eat and eat out at restaurants. There’s also a saturation of restaurants in the major U.S. markets (New York City, Chicago, LA, Miami, San Francisco) and prohibitive costs to keeping those restaurants open. All of this pushes talented chefs and restaurateurs into “undiscovered” locations like Portland, Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, Cleveland…just a few cities that have developed sophisticated and diverse food cultures within recent years. I suspect that the current restaurant capitals of the U.S. will maintain their status as dining destinations (including Chicago), but soon you’ll be able to go to the airport in, say, Buffalo, and still find great food.

How have advancements in technology changed your craft over the years?

Technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, chefs can now express greater and more complex creative and artistic visions thanks to technology like 3D printing, molds, advanced stabilizers, ingredients and crossover technology like immersion circulators and rotovap [rotary evaporator]. From a purely artistic standpoint, technology has expanded the boundaries of what is possible and I love that. However, this is not a purely artistic profession. What is most important and what I feel is becoming lost in the buzz and noise of so much technology available to us (including the rise of social media) is the fact that our responsibility as chefs is first and foremost to create food that tastes good. This has always been a profession of skilled technicians and there’s a fine line when technology replaces that skill. Is it really so impressive to envision a cake and then have a machine 3D print a model, hire someone else to make a perfect mold of the shape a machine made and then simply fill that mold with mousse and cake? Is it so amazing to coat a cake in mirror-like glaze if that glaze doesn’t taste good? To me the answer is no. I’m not impressed by that at all — but millions of Instagram users are; so the trends persist. While I embrace technology and all that it offers in the realm of creative expression, it has to be tempered with the foundation of our craft and a constant alignment with what is most important: form follows function.

Chocolate Strawberry

Chocolate Strawberry

Do you think it is important for pastry students to have a background in savory/culinary studies?

I think any and all education is a good thing. Knowledge truly is power. You never know how a certain set of skills or knowhow can be applied to your career or your work. So while I don’t think it’s necessary for pastry students to have a savory background (I have no formal savory education), I also don’t think it’s a bad thing.

What is one piece of general advice you would give pastry students?  

This is easy: Leave your ego and sense of entitlement at the door. I repeat: Leave your ego and sense of entitlement at the door. Get rid of it altogether because it will do nothing to help you succeed in your career. Do what you are told every day, as well as you can, as fast as you can, as clean as you can, and be open to critique and feedback until the day you are told to do something else. This is called work ethic. There’s no timeline that entitles you to a raise or promotion or new set of tasks — that’s just not how our profession works. Keep your head down and work hard. The success will come in time to those who are truly willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it.

Click here to check out our upcoming advanced pastry courses at ICE. 

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Interview by Carly Evans

Chef Kate Sullivan of Cake Power is New York’s pick when it comes to imaginative, sculpted cakes. Named one of the “Top 10 Cake Artists of North America” by Dessert Professional, the Brooklyn-born baker’s gorgeous cakes have appeared on The Martha Stewart Show, The Today Show and Food Network Challenge.

We caught up with Chef Kate to chat about her signature style and her biggest cake challenge in anticipation of her upcoming CAPS course at the Institute of Culinary Education. In Cake Carving: The Polar Bear Cake, participants will practice key cake carving techniques to create their own sculpted cakes.

cake_power_nyc

You worked as a photographer at magazines such as Parenting and Smart Money — what inspired you to switch to baking?

Photography has always been a passion of mine and I loved working for magazines. My main job was to hire the photographers and produce photo shoots, but ultimately I had a craving to do something more hands-on.

What is your “signature” cake or dessert?

Most of my cakes have some sense of fantasy and animation, using bold colors and shapes.  The designs and details are usually painted or sculpted by hand.  As for wedding cakes, one of my signature designs is a simple tiered cake adorned with a cascade of peonies, dahlias and tiny white chocolate animals as well — bunnies, foxes and even alpacas (which I once added in honor of the bride and groom’s own alpacas).

I’m sure you receive all types of requests for cakes. What is the most challenging sculpted cake you’ve ever completed?

It’s hard to choose. One of my criteria for choosing a project is the excitement of not being quite sure if I can pull it off. One that comes to mind is a replica of the new Whitney Museum. The building is really complicated with angles going in every direction. The cake was for an art installation at the museum and they wanted an exact replica, down to the railings piped onto the balconies on the outside of the museum.

 

cake_power_2

Have advancements in technology changed your craft over the years?

One of the requests for the Whitney Museum cake was that it be as architecturally correct as possible. I was able to find an amazing architecture student who researched the building online and scaled down the design for us with a computer-assisted program. Using the three-dimensional printer in our studio, we were able to print out a three-dimensional version of the building. Having a 3-D model to work from makes a huge difference.

What is one piece of general advice you would give pastry students? 

These may seem contradictory but, in the beginning, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just play with your food and decorating supplies—happy “accidents” happen all the time. However, once you’re taking on a trickier project, a more precise approach using a 3-D model or figurine is the way to go. It’s also a good idea to make templates of your subjects scaled to size in advance to keep your sizing consistent.

Ready to try your hand at cake carving? Click here to register!

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Introduction by Caitlin Gunther
Interview by Carly Evans

Chocolate: where most people see a tasty treat for immediate consumption, Chef Ebow Dadzie sees a world of possibilities for his next creation. A chef instructor at Monroe College and pastry chef for the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel, Chef Ebow has earned a host of praise for his chocolate artistry — named as one of the Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional magazine in 2015; awarded the honor of Most Influential Pastry Chef by the Black Culinary Alliance in 2012; named pastry chef of the year by Paris Gourmet in 2007; and more. Chef Ebow even earned the Guinness World Record for building the tallest sugar skyscraper in 2006 — talk about setting your sights high.

ICE is excited to host Chef Ebow for his upcoming hands-on course, Chocolate Showpiece with Ebow Dadzie, where students will learn to create their own sweet masterpieces. We spoke with the award-winning pastry chef to ask him about his signature style and his advice for rising pastry students.

Pastry Chef Ebow Dadzie

If you had to choose, what would you say is your “signature” item?

It’s very hard to choose a signature item, but if I had to, it would incorporate hazelnut and dark chocolate. I’ve had success with these flavors within the classroom, work and in competition for many years.

Your family is from Trinidad and Tobago. Do you ever integrate ingredients or recipes from these roots into your work?

Absolutely — I’d be crazy not to! When I introduce flavors from Trinidad, I am able to bring something different to the table. These are not necessarily new flavors, but they’re flavors that people don’t see often so they add intrigue. The response to this has always been positive. I also like to take risks with my creations. By introducing Caribbean flavors like tamarind, soursop (a creamy, sweet and sour fruit) and sorrel, I’m adding my personal touch but also challenging myself to create something special that represents where I come from.

As a teacher in Monroe College’s hospitality program, do you have any thoughts on the future of traditional food education?

I’ve noticed that the drive and energy that we used to have back in the day just isn’t in some students entering the industry today. If the students aren’t passionate about what they are doing, then the educational program isn’t going to be successful either. I believe, as educators, it’s our responsibility to energize and fuel the excitement in our students. We have to promote our industry and prepare these students to work hard and challenge themselves. We also have to lead by example, by being passionate, working hard ourselves and becoming mentors to the next generation of great chefs.

Sky’s the limit: where would you go on your next trip and why?

I have a few places on my list for the near future. Egypt has always been on my radar. Ever since I was young, I wanted to see the pyramids and experience the culture, so Egypt might be next for me.

What is one piece of general advice you would give students of pastry and confections?

As a student in my very first baking class, I received a C grade and I questioned if pastry was the industry for me. But I didn’t allow that grade to discourage me. I continued to push myself because I wanted better for myself. I practice something that I learned in high school, which I now pass on to my students: The 4 Ds. You must have the Desire to want to achieve something. Be Determined to do the necessary things in order to achieve what you desire, because it won’t be handed to you. Continue to stay Dedicated to your goal. And while you continue to achieve all these great things, stay Disciplined and remember to stay humble in your success. Great words from one of my favorite reggae artists, Buju Banton, that I like to remind my students: “It’s not an easy road.”

Ready to get creative with chocolate? Click here to register for Chocolate Showpiece with Chef Ebow.

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