At the Table: Colleen Stillwell
Current Title: Pastry Chef
Years as a professional baker: about 13
Colleen Stillwell is a formally trained pastry chef. Her degree in Baking and Pastry Arts from the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California, came with High Honors and a Greystone Star Award for Exceptional Achievement. Being a diligent and talented student at CIA under well-respected pastry chef Stephen Durfee set Stillwell on a path to success. Since graduating, her career has taken her all over the country, most notably to the kitchen of Daniel Boulud’s eponymous three-Michelin-star restaurant in New York, and also to Lincoln Ristorante, working under pastry chef Richard Capizzi, one of the founders of Per Se. Today, she is here in WNY, where she works at the newly opened Culinary Institute in Niagara Falls. There, young pastry hopefuls can learn directly from her, and fans of high quality and delicious baked goods can procure them with nothing more than a stop into the school’s La Patisserie.
What is it that most people don’t understand about being a chef?
People have this idea that chefs eat better than anyone. Instead, most meals are consumed as fast as possible out of a deli container.
What is it that most chefs don’t understand about pastry chefs?
Sometimes savory chefs think there is a world of difference between us, but, at the end of the day, a pastry chef is still just a cook.
What is the biggest difference between a pro baker and a home baker?
Why mix the butter and sugar until they’re fluffy and light in color? Why should the eggs be room temperature? If you want to be good and offer consistent results, you need to know the specific reasons behind what you do.
What is your favorite dish?
It’s so simple but I always love an affogato. The combination of cold gelato and warm espresso—creamy and bitter—is right on. I love a dish with balanced contradictions.
Is there a classic dish you dislike making?
Parisian macarons are so finicky! I love consistency and I have never been able to spend the time figuring out how to produce macarons of consistent quality year round.
Favorite after work beverage?
A Dark and Stormy!
Best LP to cook by?
LCD Soundsystem’s This is Happening
Restaurant you’re dying to try?
The dreamy one is NOMA in Copenhagen. The one I’m likely to get to soon is SPQR in San Francisco.
Is there a food no chef should love, but you do anyway?
Kraft Mac and Cheese with Frank’s. Yeah, I know.
What is your go-to food reference?
Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking. For recipes, I use 101cookbooks.com. It offers recipes from all sorts of cookbooks, as well as the writer’s personal experiments.
What is the one kitchen tool you’d hate to live without?
A plastic bowl scraper. It’s the handiest tool in the kitchen.
What is the most exciting thing about Buffalo’s restaurant scene?
There is such a great vibe right now. There seems to be a better understanding of quality food now and people here want to see more of it!
Christa Glennie Seychew is Spree’s senior editor and food editor.