Walking distance from my condo is the cutest little bakery. I pass by it every time I take my dog for a walk. I’m always so tempted to go inside and buy one of those 3 tiered cakes that they have on display in the window. I remembered that once upon a time I was a pastry chef and I could probably make that cake myself. Yup, like most 80's kids I used to whip up the finest of delicacies in my Easy Bake Oven. I’ve come a long way from my little amateur oven, but I’m sure I can still make sugary magic in the kitchen. I’m 26 years old, I can bake a cake. I mean, it can’t be that hard, right?
Truth is, it is hard to bake cakes. It takes an immense amount of patience, attention to detail and culinary skill to pull off creating those beautiful and tasty things. As the Executive Pastry Chef for Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in Atlanta, Chef Kathleen Miliotis not only bakes cakes, but she kicks all kinds of ass in the kitchen as the woman in charge of one of Atlanta’s premier Italian restaurants. She oversees the entire production of pastries and desserts, including creation and execution, recipe and menu creation, supervising, training, managing the pastry staff, and community involvement. She has been in the pastry game for over 10 years and received national recognition for her work, including The New York Times naming Miliotis as “a rising star, her French dessert so venerable they belong in the Louvre." We were stoked to get to chat with Chef Kathy about culinary school, her career as a pastry chef and one of our favorite topics, CAKE!
Jasmin Martin: Why did you want to become a pastry chef? Did you bake a lot when you were growing up?
Kathleen Miliotis: I wanted to be a culinary chef but my sophomore year at Johnson and Wales I took a class on intro to baking which introduced me to the world of artistic baking and pastry, such as how to blow sugar. Not just making your typical pies or donuts! I learned about sugar artistry, chocolate and so much more. It changed my course..I had to take two extra years to get my bachelors degree in baking and pastry!
JM: Can you talk a little bit about your training? Where did you go to culinary school?
KM: I attended Johnson and Wales in Providence, Rhode Island…..it was a very intense program with strong teachers. Before I got there, I thought I already knew everything but there was so much too learn. Pastry is an art it’s not just a hobby…it’s a career so you have to take it seriously. My first chef job was at the Jarrod Coffin House in Nantucket. I was the pastry chef there in 1998 and I was only 21 years old. It was all hands on deck. I made cobblers cheesecakes, country style…it was great experience. I had to learn and teach myself what the guests were asking for. I made my first wedding cake using rice paper, it was a very vintage wedding.
JM: In recent years people have become more familiar with pastry chefs thanks to reality TV shows like Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes. It seems like there is a lot of stress in the kitchen! What is the most difficult thing about being a pastry chef?
KM: The most difficult is time management and getting stuff done on time. Everything is dependent upon time in the kitchen. Pastry is chemistry, you can’t rush it. Everything has to be precise. It’s really is a science.
JM: As the executive pastry chef for Davio’s what is a typical day like for you? How big is your staff?
KM: Walk in, see what my day entails – bread production first, then pastry production based on what parties we have that evening or the next day. We make everything in house – from our breads, buns, tart dough, everything is made from scratch in our kitchen by four people including myself.
JM: What inspires you as a chef? How do you make your desserts stand out?
KM: Staying on the trends. What our guests enjoy, seasonal, bold flavors… Sometimes you see something beautifully plate but there is no flavor. I am big on flavor and taste and keeping it simple yet beautiful.
JM: As a female pastry chef, do you feel like you’re a minority in your field?
KM: Maybe two years ago yes but once I became a Les dames I realized that there are so many powerful and strong woman who are in this industry that stand together – I see more female chefs in the kitchen now and it’s very a powerful thing.
JM: When you dine at other restaurants, what are you looking for in their dishes? And desserts?
KM: What’s in season, unique ideas, sauces or something I’ve never heard of before. I think of myself as a risk taker. My key ingredients to any dessert are crunch, salt and sweetness and its very important how they are used. I love dining out and seeing what my competition is and the creativity out there, it makes me a better chef!
JM: What is your favorite dessert to make and why?
KM: My rendition of a Kit Kat Bar using peanut butter and chocolate I love recreating childhood favorites like my ice cream sandwiches which were a big hit…and of course our adult flavored popsicles for the summer!
JM: What do you do to stay on top of industry trends?
KM: I think its really important to look at other menus, cookbooks and even some from ten years ago which are still relevant. I love researching by looking at magazines, top ten restaurants in the US and what are their chefs making or trying to do differently. I get inspired by new media like Pinterest or Instagram, they are great tools for fun ideas.
JM: I’m sure one of the most difficult things to create as a pastry chef is a wedding cake. As much as we love to look at them, we know that pastry chefs must have a love/hate relationship with crafting them. Do you enjoy creating wedding cakes?
KM: YES… You're making the bride’s dream come true. A wedding cake is a piece of artwork. It’s very time consuming and they are many steps involved including many intricate details from fondant work to airbrushing but the final product is worth it!
JM: What’s next for you as a pastry chef?
KM: The Food Network! Another dream of mine is to someday own a café or brasserie and to be an Entrepreneur.
I'm still not much of a pastry chef. I admit, I burn cookies every time I bake them. But if you’re ever in the ATL and your sweet tooth won't let up, drop in to Davios Northern Italian Kitchen for a little something special from Chef Kathy.