Recently, we read a tweet by Bobby Flay that asked “Ready for another season of Star?” Umm…yes we are! Last season Star provided so many memorable highs and lows and introduced us to many talented individuals with extraordinary gifts for cooking, grilling, and baking. One of the talented stars on the show was pastry chef Linkie Marais, aka Team Giada’s resident baking queen. We caught up with Linkie (@linkiemarais) to see what she has been up to since Star ended.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking/baking? When did you decide you wanted to be a pastry chef? What do you enjoy most about being a pastry chef?
LM: I have been passionate about food as far back as I can remember starting when I lived in South Africa. One of my first food memories was baking a welcome home cake for my Dad when he returned from the war in South Africa. My Mom always had us helping in the kitchen. The South African culture revolves around food and get-togethers. We have cookouts and barbeques called “braais” where the atmosphere is equally as important as the food.
When we immigrated to the States my passion for food continued in my Mom’s kitchen by fixing the family supper several nights a week.
In high school, I started working for a local caterer doing everything and that gave me my entrance into the world of decorating specialty and wedding cakes. I went to college pursuing a degree in Public Relations knowing that I wanted a career where I interacted with people. However, when I was awarded a full scholarship to Mississippi University for Women and saw their incredible Culinary Arts Program I fell in love with it right away and decided it was my calling. I earned my degree, got married and moved to Oxford, MS where I was fresh out of school and looking for my first real job. I walked into Ole Miss Catering with my portfolio of specialty cakes, wedding cakes and some catering. They said they were looking for a pastry chef and the rest, as they say, is history.
What I love most about being a pastry chef is seeing the finished work of art – whether it is in the texture, flavor or presentation – and seeing the smiling faces of those who enjoyed the end result. As a believer in the adage “the day I stop learning is the day that I will die”, I enjoy continuing to learn new and different techniques. Now that I am also stepping into an instructor position, my greatest satisfaction comes from seeing my students’ works of arts … knowing that the transfer of knowledge and learning is evidenced in their new skills.
FP: Your students are so lucky to have someone with your talent to instruct them!
Speaking of learning…Name some of your favorite pastry chefs/bakers who have influenced you.
LM: My primary focus prior to Food Network Star was specialty and wedding cakes. Collette Peters, Sylvia Weinstock, Carrie Vincent and Nicolas Lodge all are incredible cake artists and sugar artists whom I admire and have learned so much through either classes, shows or their books.
Elizabeth Falkner is a pastry chef that has such incredible talent and I learn from her every time I watch anything she is a part of.
FP: Tell us about your experience on Star from casting to filming. What was it like to compete with the others? What did you learn from the judges especially Giada?
The experience on Food Network Star was absolutely amazing! I learned more about myself from the start of the casting than I have in the past ten years of my life. It was the most stressful thing I have ever done, but the most rewarding. It was a blast to get to know all the other contestants and I have become close friends with a few of them. I am very competitive by nature, so competing with people who had become my friends was challenging. The greatest advice Giada gave me was that if I believe it, everybody else will believe it too.
FP: Now that Star is over, give us an update of what you’ve been up to.
LM: Since Star ended life has been a whirlwind! I just launched my series of cake decorating workshops last month. We started in my home state of Mississippi and have since booked Boston, Dallas/Ft. Worth and currently working on St. Louis, Atlanta and many other cities. Since I am classically trained as a chef, not just a pastry chef, I intend to branch out to teach savory and sweet foods with a focus on entertainment as an art. There are many opportunities that I am exploring that I cannot yet reveal, so stay tuned to my website http://www.linkiemarais.com/, as well as Facebook, and Twitter.
FP: Sounds like you have exciting plans in the works! We would love it if your cake decorating workshop came to NY!
When you are home, what are some of your favorite meals to cook for yourself? If you go out to eat, name some favorite places in cities you’ve visited.
LM: Oxtail reduced in a whole bottle of red wine with garlic and onions is a favorite in my house, served with polenta. I am a meat and potatoes person at heart so I enjoy a nice, thick ribeye smothered with blue cheese served with grilled lemon-garlic asparagus and a perfect baked potato with only cracked pepper and butter … lots of butter … lots of butter … yum!
One of my favorite places to eat is Volta Taverna in Oxford, MS. They have the best Greek pizza and I go there every time I am back there.
When we go back to South Africa, we go to Sante Fe Spur in Oudtshoorn for ostrich steaks. It’s grilled and topped with an onion and mushroom sauce and it literally melts in your mouth.
FP: What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
LM: Salami and blue cheese – anybody in the cast of Star will tell you that every night I had this with a glass of wine, finished off with dark chocolate.
FP: That’s funny because today is actually National Salami Day so that’s fitting!
Any tips for novice pastry chefs?
LM: Experiment with anything and everything that you can, even savory items. Even if it fails, you will learn something. If you have the chance to study the food science behind baking do it – it is something I should have paid more attention to at the time. If you can take art classes along with studying pastry it will be extremely valuable because pastry has a lot to do with design. My ability as an artist combined with my food background pulls me into creating awesome end results.
FP: In three words, how would your friends describe you?
LM: Caring, Perfectionist, Friendly
FP: If you hadn’t become a pastry chef designing cakes, what would you be doing? We read that you like to hunt?
LM: I love to camp, be outdoors, hunt, ride motorcycles, and entertain. If I were not a pastry chef, I would have my own game ranch somewhere in South Africa doing all of the above.
FP: Linkie, Thank you so much for your time. We will be sure to stay tuned to learn more about all your future endeavors!
For more information on Linkie Marais, make sure to stop by her website! http://www.linkiemarais.com/