Like most younger siblings, Melissa Barth liked to follow her big brother around. In high school she entered a culinary program to be just like him. Her brother went on to a career in computers, but once Melissa hit the pastry station, she never wanted to leave.
Growing up in a small town in upstate New York, Melissa didn't have the opportunity to eat out much. Attending culinary school in Hyde Park added restaurant dining experiences. Trips to NYC included eating out and discovering new foods like dim sum and squab.
Melissa is intrigued by how things work, like bread baking and people's minds. She envies her cousin's studies in criminal justice and psychology, only for the learning, never as a career. Melissa wouldn't trade her world of baking and pastry for the anything.
Pastry path: I followed my older brother's footsteps; he was on a culinary kick. I liked to do what he did, and entered the culinary program, like he did, in high school. It was like the EVIT program here. Every two weeks we rotated through a kitchen station, I hit the pastry station and I didn't want to move!
pushing through, breaking the bread code, and being one of the guys after the jump
The first time I made a cheesecake, it came so easy, and it was so beautiful, I was in awe that I could create that. My teacher told me "if this is what you like why don't you look into culinary school?" Eight months after high school graduation I started at the Culinary Institute of America. When I started at CIA, I thought I had a good background, (laugh) I soon figured out I needed to stay open-minded and learn from the chefs there.
Improv cooking at Posh: The whole concept of Posh is cool and crazy, its not the kind of place you find just anywhere. The improvisational menu inspires me to see how I can challenge myself. Its utilization of ingredients at its best, its fun, and it pushes me.
Josh (Herbert), Allan (Schanbacher) and Zac (Zaun) have all been extremely helpful, especially when I started out. Like the chefs I had as instructors in school, they've helped me learn to push through when trying new recipes or desserts. Every dessert we serve is freshly prepared that day.
Its hard to leave at the end of my shift and leave the responsibility for plating to someone else. I miss being around for service; I love the crazy pace and the chaos. The people here are so passionate about the food coming out of the kitchen.
It's a man's world: Being female in the kitchen you more or less just become one of the guys. You learn to hang with the guys. For some women it may take some adjustment, developing a bit of a thick skin. Everyone in the kitchen earns respect by the work they do.
I think there is more judging because you are on the pastry side than because you are female. Guys working hot foods might think because you are in pastry you can't perform in hot foods. They start to ask, "Hey can you...?" and end "Oh, never mind..." I tell them the best chefs can work both sides of the line!
Baking and cooking style: I try to stay out of my comfort zone. My chef instructors at CIA and the chefs at Posh have encouraged me to be more creative, not to get stuck with what is familiar. I like to take comfort food, flavors, ingredients and build from that base but escalate into something new.
In culinary school, I learned a lot about classic French desserts and technique. French desserts are particular and intricate. Flavor wise, I like chocolate, banana and peanut butter together, it's a winner all around. I use honey, strawberry and pistachio in my deconstructed baklava.
At home cooking is a la minute-off the top of my head. My boyfriend is a chef, and I nudge him to cook. He blows anything I make out of the water. We had been dating for 4 months and I asked him to marry me after eating his potato salad.
Chemically challenged: I have mastered making focaccia and our burger buns but I am still challenged by bread baking. I want to learn more about the chemical properties of bread baking and how things work. Bread can go in so many directions, and you don't know until its done how its turned out.
Like all things there has to be consistency in production. Looking at a recipe is one thing, developing the method and knowing how ingredients and method affect outcome is another. Something as simple as exact water temperature can change outcome in bread.
Fantasy dinner party: I would invite Emeril, I watched him all the time when I was growing up. He worked fast, looked crazy in the kitchen, had fun and all his dishes worked. Chef Dieter Schorner would be on the list, he was my pastry techniques instructor at CIA. We called him "the father of crème brûlée." Cat Cora for sure, she's got what it takes, she has been through a lot as a female; fighting her way in and getting to the top.
Advice: Never be afraid to try something new. I didn't care for sesame oil, but when I tried it over a salad with apples, I loved the combination. Always take your time in the kitchen, especially the first time you try to do something new.
Share recipes-I love to share things with people, especially the good stuff. You can't patent a recipe, and there is only so much you can do with a certain combination of ingredients.
Tomorrow Melissa shares her recipe for a ganache coated chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse and sautéed bananas plus crème fraiche ice cream