Chefs, Food

Eric Estrella – pastry chef, Soho House Chicago

Where did you get most of your inspiration throughout your career?

I think that my dad inspired me to work hard and be generous.  He came to the United States from the Philippines with nothing and made a life for himself and started a family.  It allowed me to be whatever I wanted to be. I get inspiration from my wife, who is also a pastry chef. She is someone I can go and have a back and forth conversation about sweets.  She can see stuff I can’t and vice versa. Finally, my son who is eight and grew up in a bakery, can give me his honest opinion about food because he is still too young to be nothing but honest about it.

What do you most like to cook?

I like making croissants because it is something that needs to be done over and over again to understand it. You can’t rush a croissant and I feel the most connected to baking when I make them.

What is your favourite season for food and why?

Summer is my favourite season for food.  It is the time with the most varied fruits in season and you can do cool things with frozen desserts and ice creams in the hot weather.

What is your signature dish?

I don’t have a signature dish. I like to move on the new things because it’s hard not to get sick of seeing the same old thing.

What is your favourite restaurant in your city?

In Chicago I like to go to PQM because they make great interesting sandwiches on breads that they make for their restaurants.  In my hometown of Seattle my favourite bakery is Café Besalu. The owner makes the best croissants and Danishes I have ever had.  Every time I go there you can see him rolling out the dough throughout the day and baking them in fresh batches so they are never just sitting in the case.

What is your favourite cookbook?

Paris Bouangerie-Patissere: Recipes from Thirteen Outstanding French Bakeries. It is a book about some of the great classic pastry shops in Paris and has awesome pictures.

What do you look for in your chefs?

Smarts, discipline and a positive attitude.

What’s one of the funniest things you have witnessed as a chef?

Funny stuff happens all of the time, but I can’t seem to remember what and where.  At least I am still laughing after all of these years! I wonder if it is the same in other careers?

What is your most memorable meal?

I had Dungeness crab with black bean sauce Chinatown Seattle at about 2am in the morning with some cooks after evening dinner service. You can pick it out of the tank and they wok it up for you.

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