As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.
For Rachel Miller, there's nothing more delicious than yesteryear. The Pennsylvania-born photojournalist turned pastry chef uses nostalgia as the driving force behind her gourmet sweets. Take, for instance, her gourmet "adult" s'mores, soon to be available through her newly launched business, Pistol Whipped Pastry. Gourmet chocolate and housemade marshmallow sandwiched between thick, buttery, graham cracker (though cracker seems like a severe understatement) -- it's the kind of colossal treat you'd willingly dislocate your jaw to enjoy.
And though Miller may be a new entrepreneur and fresh face at Caramelpalooza, she's no stranger to the Southwest's culinary scene. Miller has worked in the kitchens of Bouchon Las Vegas, J&G Steakhouse, The Parlor, and True Food Kitchen in Scottsdale, where she decided that baking isn't really baking if you can't use butter (or sugar or flour . . . ).
Though we can't say for sure what Miller will bring to her first-ever Caramelpalooza, we can certainly place bets on some form of artisanal Americana.
I'm really nostalgic about . . . food and/or meals. I'm surprised how much I go back to what I grew up on. My palate has evolved, but taking those old-school favorites and improving upon them is what food is all about.
I grew up on . . . really good fresh food. My family canned and made preserves, and the more I grow as a chef, the more I head back to what I learned as a kid.
I pour caramel over . . . everything! I keep a jar in the fridge and it goes on ice cream, cookies, cake, pie . . . you name it.
You're never too old for . . . a s'more!
You'll always find ___ in my kitchen: Knives. Some savory chefs feel that pastry chefs don't keep their knives sharp, but I do!
I top my toast with . . . my homemade marmalade -- bittersweet Arizona citrus melting together with rich butter.
My weapon of choice in the kitchen is . . . a sharp knife and my hands.
My go-to breakfast pastry is . . . an almond croissant with some Roastery of Cave Creek Coffee.
Some things never change, like . . . how good the house smells when I make my mom's sauce.
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In another life, I would be . . . a rough-and-tumble cowgirl. Think Annie Oakley, but one who stays at the Four Seasons.
Describe the perfect pastry . . . Balanced. It's just like a savory dish. I want sweet but I don't need just sugary sweet. Balance the flavor combinations and textures. I love lemon tart because you get a rich butter crust off-set with a bitter and sweet lemon curd, and a fluffy, airy meringue that's been toasted and has a little crunch.
I don't understand . . . people who don't use salt. People who eat crappy food. People who don't need coffee to get them moving or keep them moving.