Q&A with Catch's Pastry Chef Thiago Silva
Chefs aren’t exactly the most normal people in the world. Case in point: Thiago Silva who went from singing at the New York City Opera to baking cakes for the likes of Sofia Vergara and the Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire.
Lately, he’s been impressing guests at Catch (myself included) with his creative riffs on classic childhood desserts, like his Peanut Butter Cup Soufflé or Chocolate Brownie Cake with Tres Leches Ice Cream and Bourbon Chocolate Sauce. But what most people aren’t familiar with is Silva’s gift for creating cakes so beautiful and extravagant they look more like art. In fact, he has aspirations to start his own cake design company someday.
If I had to choose [between designing cakes and making plated desserts], I’d choose designing cakes,” said, Silva who added that his favorite creation is his rose wine bottle cake. “Cakes are just on another level. Just to see someone’s reaction when they see the cake – it’s priceless.”
When Silva isn’t cranking out desserts for Catch, he’s combing his Jackson Heights neighborhood for great Latin American food. “My favorite spot is called Casa del
Pollo,”Silva tells us. “It probably has the best roasted chicken and ribs
that I ever had, not to mention the fried rice.”
Married to my high school sweetheart.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to become a musician. Not many people know this about me, but I
performed in tons of musicals in high school, I was always in choir and opera
workshops. I even got to sing on stage at the New York City Opera House.
What was your first job in food and what did you learn?
My first food-related job was an internship at Fauchon Bakery, a French patisserie, while I was still in high school. That’s actually when I saw some crazy cakes being produced. I really wanted to learn that off the bat, but didn’t get the chance to. I did, however, learn a lot of basics, like cookie dough, ice creams and sorbets, mousses. The one thing I really learned the hard way is not to dip your finger in hot caramel.
Whom do you consider your culinary mentor?
I always consider my pastry mentor to be Chef Alfred Stephens of [Olives Restaurant]. Right after high school, I really had no experience, so finding a job was tough. After interviewing a couple of places I got nothing, but I guess Chef Al saw some potential in me. He really taught me a lot and was always very tough on me, but I’m glad he was because this is a tough business. I always consider that my pastry education.
You put your own spin on classic desserts such as chocolate brownie cake and tiramisu when crafting the dessert menu for Catch. Why did you decide to go that route instead of opting to create more avant garde desserts?
When coming up with a dessert menu for Catch, I really wanted to make fun and memorable desserts. However, we also had to keep in mind how much volume we would be handling, and none of us thought that it was a place for avant garde desserts, although I love them. For Catch I really wanted to come up with desserts that represented the EMM Group, and that I was really proud of. One of the things I love is to take a classic and make it your own. When we were talking about the dessert menu for Catch, I found out that our Executive Chef’s favorite dessert was tiramisu, and it also just happens to be my favorite, so it fit right in. As for the chocolate brownie cake, I thought “Who doesn’t love Chocolate cake and milk?” So I played off of that. To me, there is nothing better then something simple done right.
You’re also known for your exquisite cake designs and have even made cakes for celebrities like Amare Stoudemire of the New York Knicks. What skills does every good cake decorator need to develop and how are those skills different from being a plated dessert chef?
You need patience, and lots of it. When doing plated desserts, you have to be fast with production, and try to get things done quickly. When decorating cakes, time just seems to fly. Some things are just so tedious, that no matter how fast you thing your moving, you’re not moving fast enough and time is just flying by. There’s also a lot more pressure when it comes to making the cakes and they’re a lot more expensive than plated desserts. When people spend that kind of money, they expect a great product. I don’t want to be the one to disappoint them.
Which do you prefer – designing cakes or crafting plated desserts?
If I have to choose, I’d say designing cakes. Although I love plated desserts, and take a lot of pride in
putting out great desserts, cakes are just on another level. Cakes are usually always for a special occasion, and I get to be a part of it. Just to see someone’s reaction when they see the cakes, it’s priceless. It’s funny because
a lot of times I get a confused look, until they figure out that it’s a cake. It’s a great feeling.
What has been your favorite cake creation?
I have to say that it was the Rose Wine Bottle cake that I made for Sofia Vergara’s boyfriend. The reason for that is because it has a lot of firsts in it. It was the first cake that I ever sketched, it was my first celebrity cake, it was the first time I made a sugar bottle and it was the first time I did sugar work. So that one is special to me.
Any aspirations to start your own cake design company?
Definitely. It’s certainly one of my future goals.
What has been your biggest kitchen flub?
There has been a lot of those. Whenever you’re trying to get things done at a fast pace, things happen. The one that really sticks out to me was a cake I had to make for the two of the owners of EMM Group. Everything just went wrong for me, ovens broke, the A/C was not cooperating, I had nowhere to store this huge cake — not my proudest moment. The cake could have been a lot better. I’ll make it up to them.
Is there any dessert that you won’t eat?
Don’t think so, but I’m not a huge fan of dark chocolate.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Doing what I love, and lots of it.
What neighborhood do you live in and what are some of your favorite places to dine there?
I live in Jackson Heights. There’s a lot of Spanish food. I’m from Brazil, so I’m a fan. My favorite spot is called “Casa del Pollo.” It’s a Peruvian spot and probably has the best roasted chicken and ribs that I ever had, not to mention the fried rice. It’s so good.
You’re on your deathbed…Sex or dinner?
I have always said that I want to go out just like my grandpa did — right
Address: 21 9th Ave. nr. 13th St.