One of my favorite desserts in town is the peanut butter crunch bar of sorts at Dante. Normally, I opt for cheese for dessert but make an exception for this little bit of heaven. The woman behind the fabulous dessert, along with many others, is pastry chef Wendy Thompson.
1. What are the top 5 spices every kitchen should have? Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, star anise and ginger are a must to me.
2. What is your favorite and least favorite thing to bake? Least favorite thing to bake is macaroons – they are temperamental. Sometimes they come out beautiful and other times they will crack on top. My favorite thing to bake is cupcakes; they always put a smile on my face.
3. What is your favorite and least favorite thing about Cleveland? Favorite thing is the diversity. I live in the heart of Cleveland and love it! Least favorite is that I wish there were more big businesses willing to stay in the city. I really think it would help promote Cleveland’s growth and stabilize the economy.
4. Favorite restaurant? Dante of course! Plus, I really appreciate what some of these chefs are doing to help put Cleveland on the map, including Jonathan Sawyer, Rocco Whalen, Karen Small, Michael Symon and Doug Katz. All are favorites of mine.
5. What restaurant do you miss? Silver Grille in Higbee’s. My grandmother used to take us downtown during Christmas and we would eat there. You always got a cardboard stove to take home.
6. Any hidden gems Clevelanders have yet to discover? I would have to say that the Detroit Shoreway is the thing to watch. It really is being built up. There are three theaters including a Cleveland public theatre where the locals can showcase their talent plus they do a lot of educational programs with young kids as well. Capital Theatre has one section that shows independent films and documentaries and Near West has a lot of musical productions.
7. You’re having a dinner party, top 5 songs on your play list? I would have to let my fiancé pick the music. The only thing on my iPod is books on tape. I know, I’m a big dork.
8. At that same dinner party, what are you serving for dessert? I love childhood favorites and would probably serve homemade ice cream sandwiches.
9. What is the best dessert you have ever had? It’s actually one on the menu right now. It’s a brown sugar date cake served with mascarpone mousse; poach pears and black pepper walnut brittle. Everyone needs to have it. When I had my first bite, I was blown away.
10. What is the secret to baking? Patience. You cannot rush baking no matter what.
11. Most famous person you have ever baked for? Bill Clinton, who was just recently in. It was really cool – how many times can you say you shook a presidents hand?
12. Favorite ice cream? Pistachio
13. Favorite guilty pleasure? Purple Sweetarts.
14. What was your first job? My first real job was at Heinen’s in the meat department. I was the only girl that could handle the smell. I worked there through high school and college; it was a great place to work.
15. What is your favorite tool in the kitchen? It’s a heatproof spatula, but only if none of the cooks have used it because once they do, it is useless to me. The smell of garlic and onions is a killer to any dessert.
16. If you could bake for one person, real or dead, who would it be? I would have to say the Cookie Monster. Why not turn him onto brownies?
17. What is one foolproof dessert anyone could make? I love classic, retro desserts. Get a glass bowl, fill it with diced pound cake, vanilla and/or chocolate pudding, layer strawberries or raspberries, and keep layering until you get to the top. Finish with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. You can do it ahead of time (even the night before) and then you don’t have to worry about it.
18. Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker? Neither. I pick Pillsbury. You have to love the fluffy guy.
19. If you weren’t a pastry chef, what would you be doing? I would have a whole bunch of jobs. I would take on something that interests me and move on after I learned that craft. For example, I really want to learn to upholster furniture.