Pan & Cake Catering Co. has been on my foodie radar since they arrived here. Back in February, I attended a friend’s wedding, and to my delight, Pan & Cake provided the catering. Their cuisine was a bountiful feast for the eyes. I was especially impressed with their charcuterie boards draped with fresh fruit and an endless array of beautiful meats and cheeses. A big thank you to Chef Shawnae Bleichner-Cook who was gracious enough to do an interview, giving us some more details about their savory and sweet local business.
Photo from Pan & Cake website.
Smile Politely: How did you decide to become a chef?
Shawnae Bleichner-Cook: My passion for culinary was sparked from a job I had in college as the assistant chocolatier for a local bean-to-bar chocolate company. We would import cacao beans from all over the world, roast them in our kitchen, "winnow" them (which means to remove the shell), and grind the cacao nibs into smooth chocolate, called melanging. I learned how to temper chocolate on a marble slab and would make chocolate truffles, drinks, and pastries.
The part of this job that made me want to become a chef was learning how to property taste and profile flavor. The flavor of chocolate, much like a coffee or a wine, is very much determined by its origin. Factors like soil condition and climate can make a chocolate from Madagascar taste like bright citrus and berry and give a chocolate from Ethiopia flavor profiles of sweet tobacco and black pepper. This fascinated me and inspired me to learn more about the culinary world. The more I learned, the more I fell in love with the industry.
SP: Where did you go to culinary school or how were you trained?
Bleichner-Cook: I attended Liberty University and graduated in 2015 with a business degree in entrepreneurship. I manage all of the business aspects of Pan & Cake Catering in addition to pastry and cake decorating, which was on-the-job and self taught. My business partner, Josie Patterson, is the executive chef of Pan & Cake. She attended the Art Institute of Tampa and received her degree in culinary. She moved on to work for Disney, which was a huge highlight of her career as a chef.
SP: What made you decide to open a catering business here in C-U?
Bleichner-Cook: Pan & Cake started as a personal chef company, actually. We were hired to cook for clients in their homes for dinner parties or special occasions. What started out as intimate dinner parties with groups of eight quickly turned into larger and larger events through referrals. When Josie and I were asked to cater our first wedding about two years ago, we knew we had something special with our combined talents. We have always worked so well together, so we made a plan and jumped all in!
Photo from Pan and Cake.
SP: What kind of cuisine does Pan & Cake specialize in? What is your favorite cuisine to cook?
Bleichner-Cook: We specialize in modern American cuisine. We love giving our favorite foods an upscale twist. Chef Patterson is famous for her mac 'n cheese; it is sure to put a smile on everyone's face!
SP: What type of services are you offering during this time of social-distancing? Do you offer meal delivery?
Bleichner-Cook: During this time of social distancing, all of our events have been cancelled, currently through mid-July. Josie is taking this time to be home with her five year old daughter Zoe, and I am offering baked goods, including cakes, cupcakes and pastries.
Photo Wright Photography.
SP: Can you tell us a little about your specialty cakes and desserts?
Bleichner-Cook: Absolutely! I am very proud to call myself a self-taught cake artist. My current favorite cake trend is called "Fault Line" cakes. It has the effect of the buttercream splitting and revealing hidden gems "inside" the cake-like sprinkles, fresh fruit, candy, you name it! We are also currently offering Grab 'n Go cupcake boxes for pick-up or delivery. We have one specialty flavor per week, and a pack of four is only $10! So many people from the community are ordering boxes to send as gifts to friends, family, neighbors, healthcare workers, and first responders as a way to brighten their day. You can find out more information about these on our social media.
SP: Do you source your ingredients locally? How can our community help support you and other local businesses like Pan & Cake?
Bleichner-Cook: We sure do! One of Pan & Cake's core values is "to serve and support a local experience." We get as much of our ingredients as possible from local suppliers, and we love highlighting them as an integral part of our business. The key to supporting local is being intentional about your purchases. Sometimes supporting local means less convenience, but knowing that my dollars are going back into my community is extremely important to me.
SP: Is there a chef you admire the most? Who and why?
Bleichner-Cook: Chef Marcus Samuelsson won my heart the first time I ever tried his fried chicken recipe. It is a labor of love (a multiple-day process!), but I will never forget the summer after my sophomore year in college where I perfected his bone-in fried chicken recipe. It was worth every minute. You can find this very recipe (which is the one we use at Pan & Cake) on the Food Network.
Photo Sara Gardner Photography.
SP: What is an example of a springtime menu you would prepare?
Bleichner-Cook: Springtime always reminds me of fresh, bright flavors. One of our most popular entree menu items is Lemon Chicken Romano with a citrus beurre blanc. It is a breaded and fried chicken cutlet with a blend of cheeses in the crust. The citrus beurre blanc is light and fresh to balance the richer flavors in the dish. We love this paired with a garlic and fresh herb capellini pasta.
SP: What is your favorite dish to cook on the Pan & Cake menu?
Bleichner-Cook: We are all about the sauces at Pan & Cake. We believe that everything should have a sauce, and we love coming up with exciting accompaniments for our dishes. A personal favorite of mine is Chef Patterson's brandy peppercorn sauce: extra brandy. It was originally created for our grilled beef tri-tip, but we've put it on just about everything from sandwiches to mashed potatoes.
SP: If you could share dinner with any chef in the world, who would it be and why?
Bleichner-Cook: That’s an easy one, Greek celebrity Chef Akis Petretzikis. I'm a huge fan!
Top photo is from Pan & Cake Catering website.