Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ukrainian pastry chef creates a buzz in western Ukraine with unusual cakes

The Associated PressTHURSDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2006

UZHHOROD, Ukraine Valentyn Shtefano's pastries were known for attracting stares, giggles and lip-smacking murmurs of "yum" in this western Ukrainian city. But even his bride-to-be was surprised when Shtefano told her he was making her wedding dress — out of flour, eggs, sugar and caramel.

The edible dress — made of 1,500 cream puffs and weighing in at 20 pounds (9 kilograms) — took the 28-year-old baker two months to make, and by the end of the wedding reception, bride Viktoriya didn't want to take it off, much less devour it.

Shtefano, his fingernails permanently stained with food coloring, is eager to introduce new sweets to this city of 125,000 people. He took a three-month baking course in Paris and entered an international baking competition last year with his sister, who lives in the French capital. The siblings made a 2-foot-long (0.61-meter), 1920s-era Cadillac from cream puffs and caramel. They won third place.
Shtefano's cakes have evolved with his experience. His first baking job six years ago was at a pizzeria where he made US$40 (€31.50) per month. He quit after the owner refused to give him a raise. Now he splits his time between two restaurants and works his own schedule, delighting this town with his culinary treats.

Shtefano's cakes are more art than dessert. Sure, some might be for a mature audience, like a pair of breasts on display at the pizzeria. But Shtefano also created an elaborate cake for Easter that drew hundreds to a local cathedral. It was a black and gold globe hatching from an Easter egg, with pieces of eggshell on top of the globe and falling off to the side. It was too pretty to eat.

"At first, it was even a little embarrassing," Viktoriya Shtefano said of the dress she wore to the couple's reception at Uzhhorod's 1,200-year-old castle, attracting a rush of local media attention in August. "Cameras, interviews, but after a couple of hours, I didn't even want to take it off."

The wedding dress is now being stored in Shtefano's cramped apartment, which he shares with his parents and new bride, until he can find a mannequin on which to display it in the pizzeria's window.

Shtefano hopes to someday open a business with his sister in Ukraine, believing there's more room for skillful bakers in Ukraine than in Paris.

"Here you can buy jobs," he said. "You want to be president, governor, (parliament) deputy, OK.

"But my job you can't buy — you have to do it."

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