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Jilly’s Cupcake – Chef Casey Shiller

Dana, Jill and Casey © Chef Casey Shiller

Chef Casey Shiller, Certified Pastry Chef, is the Executive Pastry Chef and Coordinator of Baking and Pastry Arts for St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, where he teaches classes in baking, pastry, chocolates, and confectionary art. In addition to teaching, Chef Shiller is also the Director of Pastry and Baking for Jilly’s Cupcake Bar and Cafe. Shiller was named one of the “Top 10 Rising Star Pastry Chefs 2000,” by Chocolates a la Carte and was featured in Pastry Art and Design and Food Arts magazines. Shiller has also earned several gold and silver medals for his chocolate sculptures and plated dessert displays at the New York Food Show. He represented Jilly’s Cupcake Bar and Café and won the Cupcake Wars on the Food Network.

Interview by Stephen Thompson, Ph.D.

Welcome to OpenBeast. Could you briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Casey Shiller, a Certified Executive Pastry Chef, and the Director of Baking and Pastry for Jilly’s Cupcake Bar and Café.

Describe you experience with the food network’s Cupcake Wars experience?

Cupcake Wars was a blast… extremely difficult, yet fun. Dana and I were extremely honored to be selected to represent Jilly’s on a national level, and we went into the competition ready to show the nation what we’ve got. The challenge was right up my alley, as a space nerd, so I knew we could impress the judges. I still am baffled that we got 1000 cupcakes done in two hours – I’ve never moved so fast in my life.

So what makes Jilly’s cupcakes so special?

At Jilly’s, we are known for our jumbo, stuffed, gourmet cupcakes. The size of our cupcakes downright dwarfs our competitors’. Each cupcake is composed like a small dessert, with up to 8 separate components being put together.

Talk to us about your teaching profession?

Growing up with both of my parents being professors, I guess it’s in my blood. I truly have found my passion. Each day of work poses new challenges, opportunities to further my skills as an educator, and reassures my commitment to be a lifelong learner. Teaching was a new career path for me. As a seasoned and well-respected Pastry Chef, my kitchens ran effectively and my focus was directed to obtaining quality-based results from my staff. In everyday activities in my kitchen, I found myself teaching my pastry cooks new techniques, incorporating the latest trends, and providing inspiration to ensure their growth beyond the kitchen doors. I focus my endeavors in the same manner daily in my classroom. My students’ thirst for knowledge is unwavering. I am so proud to be part of their lives, shaping them into the future leaders of the baking and pastry industry, and feel lucky to be a part of the student-focused culture of St. Louis Community College.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a pastry chef?

A student in my father’s Public Speaking class did a speech on Johnson & Wales University. My dad brought home the college catalog and I saw they offered a degree in baking and pastry arts. As soon as I saw courses in chocolates and cakes, I made up my mind. I graduated from high school a year early (remember, I was a nerd) and was in Providence, Rhode Island the next school year.

Between beer and chocolate what will be your first choice and why?

I’d have to give the slight advantage to chocolate. It’s such a versatile ingredient, and pairs wonderfully with sweet, savory, acidic, spicy, fruity, and creamy elements.

What are your personal strengths and who did those help in your processional success?

This industry is truly about giving back. Throughout my career, I have had the fortunate opportunity to work for some amazing chefs. My mentor, Chef Tom Vaccaro, really set me on the right path early in my career. He not only taught me how to hone my pastry skills, but how to set an example in the kitchen. How to expect perfection, but be able to coach someone to reach the level of excellence you desire. I now see how deeply he impacted my life as I work with my staff and students, acting as a coach, a sounding-board, and an idea-sparker. I want to ensure this awesome profession has the ability to continue long after I’m gone.

What are your favorite free time activities?

My wife and I are die-hard Blues hockey fans. We’ve been season ticket holders for many years, and rarely miss a home game. We’re avid arts supporters, loving the theater and symphony. I am also very involved with the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership program, in which high-school sophomores learn the impact their leadership skills can make through volunteerism and community service.

Any advice for want-to-be chefs.

Find your passion. You can’t teach someone to be passionate about this industry. Try new flavor pairings. Research what the new trends are. Travel to try new foods. You gain an insane amount of knowledge that will translate into your cooking. Don’t worry about the paycheck. Most chefs are more willing to mentor you if you are willing to sacrifice in order to learn under them. Don’t let an opportunity to learn pass you by.

For more details about Chef Casey Shiller and Jilly’s Cupcake Bar and Café visit www.jillyscupcakebar.com

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