Chris D'Angeli of Slice Cake Studio

In her 15- year career, pastry chef Chris D'Angeli has created an impressive resume. Since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Chris has traversed the U.S., working in five star hotel properties like The Ritz Carlton, as well as world renown resorts and restaurants like The Trapp Family Lodge, with Jean-Georges Vongerighten at The Hotel Icon, and part of the opening team at The Russian Tea Room.

A two- time contestant on Food Network Challenge, Chris has scored one win (Rice Cereal Treats-Real Bridges 2), one loss (Holiday Window Display), and hopes to go back to compete again. After all, her win guaranteed the dough to start up a bakery.

Chris is the chef-owner of Slice custom cake studio. On Sundays Chris is away from her studio selling Slice's baked goods at the Ahwatukee Farmer's market. Chef D'Angeli took a little time away from her Hobart to have a sweet talk with us.

more with Chris D'Angeli after the jump

Did you always know you wanted a career in baking? Looking back, I didn't know it at the time; I was always interested in food. I would have a brownie or cookie in my hand and take it apart, dissect it. I was interested in how food tasted and what it looked like inside.

I went to college for a year, and dropped out. I thought I wanted to go to college and get a degree in elementary education like my friends. I didn't enjoy school at all. My parents told me "go to work and figure out what you want to do". I worked in a family owned bakery, all the generations worked together. I liked the bakery and the baking. My father pointed out to me that I enjoyed the work and suggested I think about culinary school.

We did research on the culinary programs around the country. I choose to go to Culinary Institute of America; they had the reputation and the program I was looking for. Going to CIA was a great experience for me. I was shy, and at CIA I was forced to be assertive. I was thrown out of my comfort zone.

I would love to be able to go back to school now. I would love to have the opportunity to extend the experience. Culinary education has changed in the past 15 years. Schools follow culinary trends. I would love to take some of the classes offered today in food history, food culture, or study the evolution of products and technology.

Where do your inspirations come from?
Everything and everybody! Authenticity! You have to have authenticity in food. People and their stories relating to food drive me. When I started out, the chefs I worked with inspired me. They were hard working and I wanted to be like them.

Then, I wanted to continue to learn, to continue my education, and I was influenced by the work of Chef Pascal Janvier and Chef Daniel Boulud. They were both French and both cutting edge at the time.

I would say my training with German and French master bakers rooted me in those traditions. As far as my own roots, my own regional influence its my home in the tri-state area of New York.

Through my career I have worked in Vermont, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and the Virgin Islands. I learned about regional differences influencing food in our country. Food is different based on the people and the culture of each region. I wanted to learn about the local food wherever I was, the culture and how strongly it resonated in food. I learned I could reach out and connect to people through their food culture. That to me is authenticity.

Can you describe your food attitude?
Flavor above everything else. It isn't enough for food to look good it has to deliver flavor. Quality of ingredients is important, I am not going to cheat my guests out of quality in experiencing my baked goods.

Its important to know where your food comes from and what you are putting in your mouth. People are learning about sourcing "good for you" food, the Food Network shows help people to learn and switch to shop at farmer's markets.

I look for quality and fresh ingredients, no preservatives, for my business.
I sell my pastries at the Ahwatukee Farmer's Market, tea breads, cookies, and pies. I need to flex my pastry muscles beyond the custom cakes, and the market is an outlet for that.

What would you like to see in Phoenix on the food scene?
Phoenix could use a dose of Texas. I say this because I love the way Texans take such pride in their state. When a Texan meets another Texan, its like they are meeting family. Coming from New York, I had an easy transition to living in Houston, because I got why Texans had that pride. I would like to see the people in Phoenix have that feeling of connection to each other.

Where do you hang out when you are not at the bakery or the market?

I spend time with my husband and our dogs. My husband and I usually cook together. He loves to watch cooking shows. He likes Tyler Florence, I like Jamie Oliver and we both like Ina Garten. We buy ingredients fresh at the farmer's market and create our meals together. Its fun to take a look in the pantry, input a list of ingredients on hand into Google and see what kind of recipes come up.

Do you follow the recipes you find?
No, (laugh) I use them for a starting point. Its fun to begin with a recipe, then change it up, and create something a little different.

What do you think about the cupcake trend?
I have anger with the whole cupcake thing on a certain level. I am working my darndest to create products with integrity and creativity. People just open up cupcake bakeries thinking this will be fun, how hard are cupcakes? The trend misrepresents pastry chefs as a whole. It is a fad perpetuated by the popularity of cupcakes with Hollywood celebrities.

However, I like cupcakes for special events and I do sell them for weddings.
Cupcakes encourage social interaction at a sit down event like a wedding. A cupcake display gets people up from the table and interacting. Cupcakes also offer a way for wedding couples to broaden the spectrum of what they can offer their guests. They are an affordable alternative for brides prohibited by the cost of a traditional cake display.

What do you see trending in wedding cakes?

Brides are always looking for something a little different. They want flavors besides vanilla or chocolate, and edible decorations that look like the real thing. A cake decorated with jewels would be an example of that.

Red velvet is a hot choice for brides, and grooms love cookies and cream. I recommend seasonal flavors, berries for summer, chocolate and peanut butter in winter, pumpkin or apples and cinnamon for fall. Citrus flavors, orange and lime, and their colors are popular now. Champagne as a cake color is also popular.

Choices are determined by the age of the bride and their personal style. I do see a slight trend back toward the traditional white, tiered cake, with a lot of scrolling work.

Viewers of the Food Network Challenge are always curious about what the competition is like for competitors, can you tell us what it was like for you?
It couldn't have come at a better time for me. I had just been cut from the staff at the Ritz Carlton due to the economic downturn, and I was devastated. My mind was numb. I knew what competing was like for other chefs, the intense preparation involved.

After being contacted, the network production panel makes a decision about your participation. You know the theme of the challenge ahead of time, and submit your sketch and a timeline. Once accepted by the panel, there is a period of about 2 and ½ weeks of practice. All the ingredients and the tools have to be shipped to the network. You anticipate for what might go wrong- and prepare for the unexpected. A tool might malfunction; a process may take longer than you thought.

The actual day of the shoot, you are on the set at 5:00AM and are there until 9:00 PM. My first challenge I won, I felt validated, and had a taste of winning. The second challenge, I just didn't deliver what the judges wanted. Loosing hurt more than I thought it would. I do want to go back and compete again.

If you could plan a dinner with a group of chefs, whom would you invite?
Anil Rohira and I were at CIA together. He is an excellent teacher, calm collected and a genius. He is gracious and a natural, with weight behind his work. He is creating new pastry techniques. I would like to be with Ina Garten, she has such a contagious laugh. Also, Jamie Oliver, I could talk to him for days about food and gardening. He is on to something honorable with his emphasis on pure food, and educating kids how to cook and eat real food.

Tips for home bakers?
I will tell them what I tell my sisters. Read the recipe from beginning to end before you start in the kitchen. Make sure your oven is calibrated; its O.K. to roast a chicken in an uncalibrated oven, but it will ruin pastry. Use fresh ingredients and know what you are putting in your mouth. If your recipe doesn't turn out, try again another day. Above all, don't stress, baking should be fun.

If you had to pick another career, what would it be?
Depends on what day you ask me! I would love to travel to Italy and learn how to make beautiful pieces of glass. I don't know if I could do it, but I would love to study the art and the history of glass making.

check back tomorrow for Chef D'Angeli's brownie recipe

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