Paula Shoyer, a household name in the kosher baking world, is a prolific cookbook author and pastry chef. This year she will be CKCA’s Master of Ceremonies at the 7th annual Kosherfest Chef Competition on November 12th. During her busy book tour for “The Holiday Kosher Baker,” we grabbed the opportunity to spend time with Paula to learn how she became a kosher baking guru.
What kind of professional training do you have?
In 1996, while I was living in Switzerland and studying at the well-known French cooking school Ritz Escoffier in Paris, I received a degree in French Pastry Arts. I wanted to learn how to cook and bake better, not as a career move but purely for fun so I pursued pastry arts since it was easier kashrut-wise.
How long have you been working in the kosher food business?
How did you start out and what was your first job in the kosher food world?
I started working while still in school doing catering jobs as well as desserts and special occasion cakes in Geneva. I started a business called Paula’s Parisian Pastries, taught baking classes and edited two cookbooks for well known author, Susie Fishbein of the kosher cookbook series Kosher By Design.
In one sentence, describe your current role in the kosher food industry?
I am a cookbook author, freelance writer, cooking and baking teacher and a kosher baking consultant.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I make people happy and I feel that I am improving the quality of kosher desserts everywhere.
What do you find to be most challenging as a well-known pastry arts chef?
The constant testing and retesting of recipes until I am truly satisfied with the results. My approach is -- if I have an idea, I’ll keep working on it faithfully until I achieve my goal.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Never take a “no” too personally and keep moving forward. Know in your heart that if you do what you love, something really good will come of it.
What is the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
Two years ago I competed on the Food Network’s “Sweet Genius”. I thought I was truly ready for the show, but surprisingly I felt awkward being on TV. It was surreal being on air and not just a viewer.
What are your passions outside of baking and cooking?
My family and I love traveling.
What do you want to be known for in the baking and culinary world?
I hope to be known for improving the quality of kosher-parve desserts served in people’s home, bakeries and by caterers.
Where did you have your best meal (outside of your own home of course)?
At Tierra Sur, the restaurant at the Herzog winery in California.
What advise do you have for someone interested in becoming a kosher chef?
Find an area where you can contribute something new or unique and be open to new opportunities. If you believe people are settling for lower standards in kosher, don’t be satisfied. Also, push hard for natural ingredients.
How do you think kosher food will change over the next 5 to 10 years?
I’m hoping that parve products will become healthier and more natural. I’d love for bakeries to get back to artisan baking and to stop using commercial tasteless ingredients to assemble baked goods. Let’s hope that bakeries will look like the parve bakeries of Paris, such as Contini and Le XXV.
~ Favorite food? Fried Chicken.
~ Favorite food to cook? Inventing new soups and baking French tarts.
~ Favorite cookbook? Olive Trees and Honey, by Gil Marks.
~ Favorite cooking show or celebrity chef? I’m a huge fan of Martha Stewart (she’s done Teshuva), her recipes are accessible and I use her books as resources.
~ Favorite kitchen tool? The silicone spatula.
~ Your best tip for successful baking? Read through the entire recipe before you start and be sure to measure properly.