Amy Tarr: What is your philosophy on pastry?
Max Santiago: Pastry is my life – I eat and sleep, always thinking of it. I express my creativity, art, and individuality through pastry. It’s a true passion.
AT: Where did you train? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
MS: Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale. I absolutely would recommend culinary school. Most of the things you are going to learn as a chef are on the job, but school is helpful, and in today’s world, chefs needs to have a degree. There are so many things – nutrition, sanitation - you need to be certified in those things if you’re going to be a head chef in this field.
AT: What pastry or kitchen tools can’t you live without? Why?
MS: My laptop computer was the best investment I made – that’s my favorite tool. I use it every single day. Also my 12-inch chef’s knife - I call it my baby. And my multi-wheel cutter – it has 5 wheels and allows you to get equal distance in cuts to make more accurate portion sizes.
AT: What are your favorite ingredients?
MS: I use a lot of luster dusts – they make a big impact on presentation. They come in all different colors like Aztec gold, ruby red, and bronze. Cotton candy is really cool, too – you can purchase a small home machine and use all sorts of wacky flavors like lavender and honey to make spun sugar.
AT: What are your top three tips for dessert success?
MS: 1- Put all of your passion and creativity into everything you do.
2- Research your product and use the Internet to your advantage.
3- Keep yourself organized and keep a record of everything you create. Take down your recipes so you can replicate them.
AT: Who are your mentors/pastry heroes?
MS: My mentor without a doubt is Paul Hayward – I consult with him on a regular basis. His whole approach and creativity is everything I want to be. He taught me a lot about the way you should work with other people. In terms of more celebrity chefs, I look to Charlie Trotter and his pastry chefs – he’s the most renowned for putting a lot of savories into the pastry world. Now it’s everywhere, but he was really the leading person in that.
AT: What are your favorite desserts?
MS: I love pastry; I never get tired of it. Also anything with tropical fruits. Chocolate is my favorite medium to play with, but I like to eat tropical fruits like mangoes, coconuts, and bananas.