Interview: What does it take to be a successful pastry chef?
Q&A with Stephanie Prida, Pastry Chef for Manresa Restaurant, in Los Gatos, California
HC: Where did your love of pastry begin?
SP: I consider pastry and cooking to be more in the realm of being a craftsman. There is a ton of creativity involved in it, but more so we are craftsmen. Constructing and creating dishes. I think that is what drew me to cooking, and also the fact I just loved food and the restaurant industry.
HC: You had early experiences interning for The Ritz Carlton and restaurants in California. Were there unique advantages/benefits in having such varied work environments? Do you recommend a variety of well-rounded experiences to up-and-coming pastry chefs?
SP: Absolutely, one of the greatest things about this industry is the advantage we have, to be able to move around the world and do what we do. Any experience one can gain in another part of the world I highly recommend.
HC: After receiving an Associate Degree from the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, you traveled to Italy. How important is global experience to the career path as a chef?
SP: To be in the food industry you really need to be obsessed with knowledge. With that a huge part is exploring other cultures and the way they eat and the way they cook. In this industry, the best way to grow as a cook is experience, the more you experience and see and do, the better you will be.
HC: What did you gain from leading the pastry program at One-Sixty Blue Restaurant in Chicago?
SP: It was my first pastry chef position. I was really, young and probably not ready for it so I had to push myself hard to be better. It was the first time I had a pastry cook under me and I think I took a lot from past bosses on how to handle situations, and I probably made some bad decisions on how to handle some things. In the end, I realized I needed to handle the situation the way “I” thought it should be handled, and not the way past bosses had when they reprimanded me. One Sixty was a great starting field for me because, it allowed me to make mistakes and I learned a lot from that.
HC: When working as Pastry Chef of a Michelin-starred restaurant, what does it take to rise to this level of talent and skill?
SP: The one single thing it takes to work for such a great restaurant is a good work ethic. Putting in long hours and always pushing yourself to be better than yesterday. Being obsessed with knowledge and this industry are huge.
HC: What is your leadership/management style – how many people work under you at Manresa?
SP: I have one person that works with me, so it is a two-person team. We respect each other and when she or I make mistakes we don’t get mad or upset we move forward and fix the problem. We like to claim that we are “problem solvers” not “problem makers!!” There is no time to get angry and upset and create a tense environment because in the end – it’s just us two and both of us work better in a more positive environment, it’s not worth the tension.
HC: What professional and character traits have most helped you to succeed as a leader in such a role?
SP: I think one of the best character traits I have in the kitchen is staying calm in tense situations.
HC: Where does your inspiration for new pastry creations come from?
SP: It comes from everywhere – my peers, the seasons, random ideas that I have, and new ingredients.
HC: What are the greatest challenges working as a pastry chef?
SP: The greatest challenges are the continual push. It’s easy to do the same thing every day. The greatest reward is when you push yourself to be better and you’re successful at it!!