What's your favorite baking trick? Whip your egg whites—they make everything extra-light.
What was one of your most nerve-wracking kitchen experiences? While decorating one of my first cakes my hands started shaking. I ended up covering the whole cake with icing squiggles, and it became a trend.
What's your guilty pleasure? Chocolate bonbons from Jacques Torres—there are no negative ramifications from consuming chocolate.
What three things are always in your fridge? Plugrá butter, organic eggs, and chicken bones for soup.
Besides baking, what are you passionate about? Broadway shows and decorating my apartment.
What's your favorite secret ingredient? For the cake in O, I used a few: first, the hot sauce; then, the black pepper; and, not to be forgotten, the sugarcane syrup! I think in general, salt is the key to balancing the flavors of a delish cake.
What's one tip you would give someone making your cake? Make sure you take the burnt sugar, for the meringue, a bit further than your brain tells you to. You will want to add the corn syrup early because your brain says, "You're burning the sugar!" but fight the urge. Wait, wait, wait...and now add the syrup. The further you can push it the more rounded and caramel-y the flavor will be.
What was your favorite birthday cake growing up? And today? It would have to be a Half and Half (lemon/chocolate) Doberge cake from Gambino's Bakery in New Orleans. It is still a favorite of mine today, but now I make it myself.
What's your favorite secret ingredient? Homemade brittles! They're easy to make—you can use your favorite nut or seed—and they add the best texture to cookies and cake fillings (hazelnut crunch is in the banana cake!). They're also a great snack on their own.
What's one tip you would give someone making your cake? Don't take yourself too seriously! Listen to music while you bake, alter the recipe/fillings to your taste. Have fun with it.
What was your favorite birthday cake growing up? And today? Funfetti cake now and forever!
What three things are always in your fridge? Cheese, ketchup, and ice cream.
What's your favorite secret ingredient? My new favorite is in the cake I made for O: grapefruit extract. I used it in the buttercream frosting, as well as in the curd filling. The extract is not tart, but it adds a nice, full grapefruit flavor that can be very subtle or strong, depending on how much you use.
What's your favorite kitchen trick? One of my favorite tricks is for cleanup: To get onion or garlic smell off of your hands, rub wet hands on the neck of the faucet as if it were soap. The smell goes away completely.
What's your guilty pleasure? That's easy: sour cream coffee cake. There is a gluten-free one that I occasionally buy—I'm gluten intolerant. (I sometimes have to grocery shop at a store that I know doesn't have it in order not to buy it.)
What three things are always in your fridge? Indian lime pickles, lemons, and cheese—multiple kinds of cheese.
Besides baking, what are you passionate about? Reading and going to museums. I'm pretty passionate about a hot bath, too.
What's your favorite secret ingredient? In the cake I made for O, the secret ingredients are almonds in two forms: almond flour and almond paste. I like to work with nuts as much as possible, because I love the flavors they bring: sweet, smoky, buttery, and even bitter.
What's your favorite kitchen trick? Drinking bourbon and listening to some good music while cooking. Ok, maybe not in the morning—but I really think the best way to approach cooking is in a relaxed and organized manner. When you move around your kitchen in a calm, efficient way, you'll make fewer mistakes and have more fun, I guarantee it.
What was your favorite birthday cake growing up? And today? Well, my mom made me an angel food and Jell-o cake, frosted with cream that I absolutely adored. I still get shivers when I think about it. I've grown up a little. Today I love a soft-as-a-pillow, purely vanilla cake with really buttery buttercream frosting.
What three things are always in your fridge? Apples, almond milk, and red curry paste.
Besides baking, what are you passionate about? Art, Italy, and rock 'n' roll.
What's your favorite secret ingredient? Nato: As Matt would attest, I try to sneak cinnamon in most of my baking. I love the warmth it lends to baked goods. Matt: It's probably not a secret anymore, but I try to put malt or Ovaltine in everything.
Is there a dessert you won't eat? Nato: Sadly, no. You can put a stale supermarket cake in front of me, and I'll still have a bite. Matt: I hate poorly made chocolate chip cookies. They bum me out.
What was your most nerve-wracking kitchen experiences? Nato: I still get terribly nervous when we do demos. We've never messed up so profoundly that we were booed off the stage, but I'm sure we were close in the early days. Matt: I once had to cook eight Cornish hens and had to use my bathtub as a holding pen. It was kind of an awkward experience for guests who used the restroom.
What's your guilty pleasure? Nato: Cheeseburger and fries. Matt: I love baguettes with butter.
What three things are always in your fridge? Nato: Milk, apple juice, cheese. Matt: Beer, seltzer water, cheese.
Besides baking, what are you passionate about? Nato: Coffee, music, design. Matt: Poker, skiing, movies.