Photography by Michael Caronchi
Chelsea Zeman may not have been born with a pastry brush in her hand, but she grasped it soon afterward. “We always did a lot of baking when I was growing up,” says Zeman. “My mom was an excellent cook, and I learned a lot from her.” Zeman is a long way from home. A native of South Africa, she attended culinary school in Durban, where she specialized in pastry. She first came to the United States in 2012 to do an internship in Lake Tahoe. Zeman moved to Naples last year, where she worked as a pastry and sous chef at Alto Live Jazz Kitchen and sous chef at Mereday’s Fine Dining. After a stint at Captiva Island’s South Seas Island Resort, she recently became the pastry chef at Sea Salt, where she works alongside her husband, Executive Chef Joshua Zeman.
Why pastry? At culinary school, every time I went onto the hot side of the line, it was always less fun. I probably enjoy making desserts more because I like eating them a lot more.
On perfecting pastry: Pastry is almost a science. It’s much more precise [than other culinary arts]. You have to get all your measurements correct; if you miss something, the dessert won’t turn out right. With hot dishes, you have the option of adding something or leaving something out to improve the dish.
Elderflower panna cotta with strawberry consommé
Tips for the home baker: When baking at home, preparation is key. Always have your oven on and set to the correct temperature before you start. Make sure your pans are lined, and have all your ingredients ready.
Favorite cookbook: I love Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook (Random House, 2005). She’s a great resource for people who want to cook at home, and her recipes are foolproof.
Biggest influence: Christina Tosi, the chef at New York’s Momofuku Milk Bar. I like her because she doesn’t come from a culinary background, even though she grew up in a family of bakers. She makes desserts that remind her of her childhood and creates from the heart.
I’d most like to cook for: Heston Blumenthal, the British molecular chef. He’s a genius, and has been a great inspiration to me. I’d love to have him hang around while I was cooking so I could get some tips.
If I weren’t a pastry chef: Believe it or not, I’d love to be a homicide detective. It has always fascinated me. I guess it has something to do with solving a puzzle, cracking the code.
Ultimate meal: If I could eat anything in the world, I’d have my mom’s macaroni and cheese. It’s the best I’ve ever tasted in my life, and it’s made with a lot of love.