Out Chicagoan Jerry Tapia knows his way around an oven.
Not only was this evident from the surprise cake he brought to an interview with Windy City Times, but also from his resume, which includes graduating from Chicago's prestigious Le Cordon Bleu ( which, sadly, no longer exists ); working with the late, great chef Charlie Trotter; and being part of the Food Network reality-competition series Cupcake Championship.
Now, Tapia, 30, has an eye on the futurewhich he hopes involves a brick-and-mortar store where people can really sample his creations, which he calls "avant garde."
Windy City Times: What projects are you up to now?
Jerry Tapia: I'm putting my business plan together. I bake on the side, and I'm saving money so I can have my own bakery. I'm also thinking of going with the name "Wildflour," because my cakes are so wild.
WCT: And you're also an actor?
JT: Yes. I'm with Talent Group and Desanti Models Talent on the South Side. I get cast for commercials and print work, and to me it felt natural.
WCT: Is there any way that one discipline helps the other?
JT: When I'm on camera, I learn how to follow directionsand I add my own twist to it. It's also like that with baking; you have to follow a strict recipe, but you also have to make it your own. For example, I've used beets in my desserts; people say "I hate beets," but they love them. They're not 100-percent natural because I use food dyes, but I use a lot of old-school ingredients, like butter. That's why people like my items; they're not too sweet or overly processedthey taste fresh.
WCT: Do you make only cakes?
JT: I make cakes, cupcakes, tarts, candies, pulled sugar, ice creams…
WCT: What was it like at Le Cordon Bleu?
JT: First, I'm sad that it's closed, We were supposed to get financial assistance and networking for life. [Note: It closed in 2017.]
It was strict; it felt like military school. I'd be up at four in the morning and they'd check our cravats to make sure they were tied right. They'd even check our nails and shoes. It was crazy. I'd be more scared of those check-ups than of baking. I did learn a lot, though.
It was intense, and draining. We started with 30 students and, like, 10 graduatedand out of those 10, only three of us are still in the industry.
WCT: And after graduating, what did you do?
JT: I interned and stayed at Soldier Field, so I learned to cook and bake for large groups. Every job would have going back to pastry.
WCT: And at Charlie Trotter's restaurant, were you involved in pastry?
JT: I started off in culinary and went to pastry. So I was helping train this blind chef, Laura Martinez, who later opened a restaurant in Lincoln Park. I was there for a couple weeks with her, and then the chef liked me so I stayed there, doing breads and pastry. It was very intense there; the chefthis short ladywould slap my hand sometimes.
Charlie Trotter was amazing. He would talk with everyone, and he would [select] one person randomly to talk with a group of students about the kitchen. And he would choose people to do wine tastings. I'm thinking, "I'm getting paid to drink wine." [Laughs]
But I learned that the more pressure I'm under, the better I am. I don't question myselfI just act.
WCT: How would you describe your style of baking?
JT: My style is very avant-garde. It's very unique, and I'm pushing boundaries. It's also very artistic. I like making imposter cakescakes that look like hamburgers and other things.
WCT: Like the hamster bread I've seen.
JT: Yes. My cakes push boundaries and I want them to look cool. I also like surprise cakes, which offer something different inside, like a rainbow.
WCT: Is there any celebrity you'd like to cook or bake with?
JT: I'd say Nigella Lawson. I got to meet her one time, here in Chicago. She did a luncheon for a book, and I made macarons for the visit. I took a picture with her and gave her the macarons. She said, "They're so pretty" and put them in her bag. I was star-struck!
WCT: So if you could have dinner with any three people, who would they be?
JT: Well, Nigella, for sure; Rihanna, because I admire her business work, and she's just real; and Miki Agrawal, who's an entrepreneur who started WILD [a farm-to-table pizzeria]. She also has TUSHY [a bidet that can attached to a toilet] and a business that involves reusable [feminine hygiene products] for women in Africa. I also read her book, DO COOL SH*T: Quit Your Day Job, Start Your Own Business and Live Happily Ever After, and she just does stuff her way.
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