Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chef Spotlight: Ellen Sternau, CKCA Instructor, Creates Pastry Magic!

Chef Ellen Sternau has a “no fear” approach to pastry. Using her natural artistic ability and passion for the pastry arts, she is able to craft daring desserts that are both eye-catching and delicious. Over the past four years, CKCA has had the privilege of having Chef Sternau share her knowledge and excitement for the pastry arts with our students. Chef Sternau will be with us this summer teaching classes in both Brooklyn and Manhattan including our cake and cookie decorating classes, our hugely popular French Macaron class, a two week Baking Boot Camp and our Teen Baking Camp.

Chef Sternau’s passion for baking began at a young age - she always loved getting “kitchen-dirty".  She began hosting cooking parties for her buddies at age eight, and by age ten, she made her first attempt at a lemon meringue pie. It didn’t take her long to realize that her future would be filled with icing and cookie cutters, not a “9 to 5” job in a cubicle.
Chef Sternau is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, where she studied both culinary and pastry arts. She chose to pursue pastry arts, which allowed her to work creatively. On her way up the pastry ladder, Ellen spent time as a line cook, worked in a custom bakeshop and waited tables at a pastry shop. Her hard work paid off when she was hired to be the assistant pastry chef at Acqua, a four star California restaurant. While there she was fully immersed in the art of chocolate, cake & pastry decoration and learned to make flawless, flavorful batters and sauces. She ultimately became their Master Pastry Chef, creating menus and desserts while also managing the staff.

Chef Sternau adopted her whimsical approach to baking from Franny Jacobs, an inspirational force and mentor. Jacobs believed that being fast, fun and creative in the kitchen is the key to excelling in pastry arts. Chef Sternau took this motto to heart when she created the world renowned chocolate “Brooklyn Bridge Dessert” while working as pastry chef at the River Cafe, a Michelin starred restaurant and fine dining institution famous for it’s sweeping views of the bridge and the city across from it. The dessert was such a hit that Ellen was paid to continue piping each chocolate bridge by hand even after she left her position as pastry chef!

These days, when she isn’t constructing chocolate bridges, catering weddings, decorating cakes or teaching classes she manages her full-time job as a wife and mother. If her plate wasn’t full enough, Ellen also has a second career as a personal trainer. Some of her first clients were actually the owners of a bakery where she worked as a consultant! When they saw that she could create beautiful, delicious pastries while still managing to stay fit, they had to know the secret. Chef Sternau was happy to share.

Favorite Kitchen Tools: 
Offset Spatula. Handy for everything, small and large, a Microplane Fine Zester and any good rubber spatula.

Favorite Cookbook:
"How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman, a New York Times food columnist and natural food movement enthusiast.  

Favorite Celebrity Chef:  
Jamie Oliver. He is fun, down-to-earth and makes delicious food. Also, Giada De Laurentiis and Ina Garten.

Advice for CKCA Grads Starting Out:   
If you’re not having fun working on a project, stop and start over. Its just food! Enjoy what you’re doing and don’t forget that messing up is part of learning. 

Food Advice For All:
Use really high-quality, non-processed ingredients. Learn to read labels, your desserts will taste better.

Be sure to check out the below classes taught by Chef Sternau!  

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