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Hi y’all. I’m not Southern despite my greeting. I’ve been living in and around New York most of my life…

…though I was born in the old country — Ukraine. The family and friends call me Irina. Good thing, ’cause that’s my first name.

I’ve been on all sorts of career wagons over the years. I worked my way through high school and college as a CVS Pharmacy cashier, then put my graphic design degree to good use by working in that profession. Until the world of pastry grabbed up all my attention. I bid goodbye to my desk job and spent 8 years in professional kitchens working my way up to being the pastry chef. Seemed great but by that point I didn’t want to do it anymore. I missed having a life and my back started giving out. I listened to my back and went back to graphic design. These days I work in an ad agency as an art director and bake when I feel like it (often). I still love baking and food and will never stop being involved in some way.

So that’s life overall: living in the always buzzing New York with my boyfriend, going to work by day, baking for fun by night, and in between there’s still time for a little restaurant hopping, working out to make room for more calories, and flipping through all my magazine subscriptions out on the balcony.

How long have you been a Daring Baker/Daring Cook and what’s your favorite thing about being in the group(s) so far?

This is only my second month as a Daring Baker, and it been fun anticipating the surprise of what the next challenge is going to be and making things I’ve never tried before. I also love to see other bakers’ interpretations of a challenge. They do it in a way I never would have thought of and they get me excited to try new things. This is a great way to learn more stuff.

What’s your favorite kitchen gadget? How about your favorite kitchen appliance?

The microplane zester. Whoever came up with that was a genius. It shaves off the finest dust of zest! I love, love, love the KitchenAid mixer. I did not have one for years and after getting used to having one in all the professional kitchens I worked in, I couldn’t live without it anymore. I asked for one as a birthday gift and got it. It made me feel like I “graduated” to the next level in the kitchen.

Are you known for making a certain dish or dessert? If so, what is it?

For a while, I was on a cheesecake kick and made a crème fraiche cheesecake with roasted peaches and moscato granita and it was a huge hit. I also once won a contest for making a chocolate mousse cake which had a marshmallow center and salted caramel peanuts inside. It was served with peanut butter ice cream. I admit, it was a good one.

Is there any recipe and/or technique that we haven’t covered yet that you’d really like to make/learn?

I’ve never made an opera cake and always wanted to!

What is the ultimate comfort food to you?

Man, oh, man. I can’t seem to get enough of pasta. With just about anything. Meat sauce. Lemon asparagus sauce. Carbonara. Tomato cream sauce. Butter sage sauce. Just about anything. The only thing that I don’t care for on my pasta, even though I like it otherwise, is chicken. Go figure.

How long have you been blogging? Do you like it? What’s your favorite post you’ve written?

I’ve been blogging for almost 3 months now and it is ridiculously fun. I would have started a long time ago if I had known. Sharing what you’re baking, getting feedback, even seeing some people try your recipes is addictive! I’ve already made a few on-line friends from different parts of the world that I never would have met otherwise and it’s great to see what they’re up to in the kitchen, too. My favorite post so far is the carrot cake post. That story cracks me up.

What’s your favorite cookbook for desserts/baking? What’s your favorite cookbook for savory/cooking?

This question is tough, as there are so many great ones. For desserts, I’ll go with Sweet Seasons by Richard Leach. His style of dessert has been a big infuence on me and that book is BEAUTIFUL. Lots of great ideas for plated desserts and everything comes out well. For savory: 12 Seasons by Alfred Portale. He’s a food genius in my opinion, and all the recipes I’ve ever tried were jam packed with flavor.

Do you have a favorite local restaurant? If so, why is it your favorite and what kind of food is served there?

Ok, once again, at the risk of sounding like a groupie, I’ll have to say Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City. I’ve never had better food, the restaurant is beautiful and the service is always dead on. He’s the chef pioneer who started the whole tall, stacked food trend, but the restaurant is still ahead of the curve. They serve Mediterranean/French influenced food, but I emphasize “influence”, as the food really does have its own personality.

Who taught you how to cook and/or bake?

I initially learned a few things from watching cooking shows, but got the bulk of my education from the great chefs who I worked under that were patients enough to teach me.

What’s your favorite holiday and why?

I love Thanksgiving because it has no religious underpinnings and that’s the grub I look forward to eating all year long.

What is your favorite cooking/food related magazine? Why?

Cook’s Illustrated is the one I snatch out of the mailbox the fastest because they explain how they came to every recipe in great detail, and you can learn a lot from their trials. Then after reading about a particular recipe, it couldn’t sound any better, so I feel compelled to make it. And I do.

Aside from chocolate for most of us, do you have a food addiction?

Since I was a little kid, I’ve had a secret love affair with Doritos. I swear they put crack in those bags. Every year they make them cheesier or new improved, or there’s more in a bag! I can eat giant bags in one sitting and because of that have stopped keeping them around.

Do you watch any competitive cooking shows? Like Top Chef or Hell’s Kitchen? If so, which is your favorite and why?

Yes! Top Chef! I wish it was on every night. I’m always amazed what those guys can come up with in such a short amount of time, and I can almost “taste” the dishes when I see them.

You can visit Irina on her blog PastryPal

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