Ghaya Oliveira was both a ballerina and stock trader before finding her way into the esteemed kitchen of Daniel in N.Y.C. Now, the Tunisian-born talent is the restaurant's executive pastry chef, using her French pastry training to churn out unexpected and playful desserts for guests of the Michelin-starred restaurant. Read Oliveira's answers to our burning questions below, and check out the 2016 James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef finalist's recipe for Honey-Lime Strawberries with Whipped Cream that our friends at Food & Wine managed to get their hands on.
What's your earliest memory in the kitchen?
I was only 10 at the time, but would often cook gruyere and honey crepes on my family’s stove. I had to memorize the recipe so I could make them on my own, particularly since the family recipe book was stored too high for me to reach. I still remember eating the first bits of crepe straight from the pan and the smell of the crepe batter hitting the heat; it is so unique, so custard-y, and always makes me smile.
What made you become a chef?
Before becoming a pastry chef, I was a ballerina and later worked in the stock market. I view pastry as a perfect combination of high-intensity and artistic expression that I once found in those prior interests. New York City, with all its energy and accessibility to the world’s cuisines, also influenced me to move in this direction.
My favorite book is Au Coeur des Saveurs by Frederic Bau ($300; amazon.com). It was my first chocolate book and Bau’s logical approach made chocolate easy to understand and use. He introduced me to how vast the world of chocolate can be with its different origins, combinations, textures and artistic innovations.
Who do you follow on Instagram for inspiration, or even just some laughs?
I like to follow art and clothing for new fashion, and perfume and visual designs for pastry inspiration, as well as other pastry chefs. She doesn’t have an Instagram, but I will often look at [Hermès design director] Leilia Menchari’s window displays to spur creativity.