Interview with Pastry Chef Stephanie Prida of The Elysian Hotel – Chicago, IL

January 2011

Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Stephanie Prida: I wanted to be a painter and an artist. I wanted to be any kind of artist. Food is another kind of artistic outlet for people. I love food and can still work with food and products I love. I get inspired by art on the street and in museums.

AB: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
SP: At Blackbird, we had an elevator shaft. It flooded, and pastry was on the second floor. A piece of the ice cream machine fell into the shaft, and a pastry assistant and I had to swim through the elevator shaft to find a small piece of the ice cream machine.

AB: What person in history would you most like to cook for?
SP: Andy Warhol. I admire his bold artwork.

AB: What goes into creating a dish?
SP: I have a notebook of seasonal favorites. In the summer, I love working with strawberries, raspberries, and melons. Start with the ingredients and build on it.

AB: What advice would you offer to young cooks who are just getting started?
SP: Travel. Stage overseas.

AB: What ingredient do you feel is underappreciated?
SP: I like to use a lot of vinegars—apple cider vinegar, for example. I like sour things. We did a sourdough cake once. I also would like to see more yeasted dough in plated desserts.

AB: How involved are you in your local culinary community?
SP: I’m fairly new, so I'm still learning and getting involved in charities. Also, the dining scene here is comforting, and many Chicago chefs can do whatever they want. Chicago is a food-focused city. It's great to work with peers and chefs.

AB: What’s next for you?
SP: I want to live abroad and move to France. I want to learn French and work there. I love the culture. I love French food, and it’s the epicenter of food. The history behind French food is fascinating.