I first met Bridget Salvia when I was in graduate school. We worked as coffee artists together at an armchair philosophers’ hotspot formerly known as Seattle’s Best Coffee in a now defunct Borders (RIP, pour out a Sleigh Bell in loving memory, folks). But, the untimely death of the Ann Arbor-based bookstore chain couldn’t keep Salvia down; she’s now the Pastry Chef at Melange Bistro in downtown A2. –K.M. Zahrt
Part 1: The Beginning
Michiganders Post: What sparked your interest in baking?
BS: I grew up in a family of cooks, my mom and grandma were always cooking and baking delicious things. I also didn’t have cable until the age of 20, so I watched a lot of PBS as a child, which meant I saw a lot of cooking shows with Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. I loved them. After completing my undergraduate degree, the only job I could get was waiting tables. The restaurant I worked at had this great tuition reimbursement program for any employees taking classes in the culinary or hospitality management fields, and since I’ve always loved cooking and baking, I decided to take advantage of that. I started at Melange while I was in my last semester of school and have been there ever since (just passed the three-year mark).
MP: What was your favorite pastry as a kid?
BS: Chocolate cake! It’s still my biggest weakness.
MP: What was the first thing you made that you knew was a complete success?
BS: I think the first cake I made that I was happy with in both flavor and decor was a dark chocolate blackberry wine cake with purple ombre roses. It was a Valentine’s Day gift from my client to her girlfriend. I have confirmation it was successful; they ordered the exact same cake for their wedding.
Part 2: Featured Recipe
MP: Do you have a favorite recipe to make for yourself?
BS: I try not to bake too much at home actually. My fiance and I try to eat healthy, and that’s difficult to do if I’ve got an endless stream of cheesecakes coming out of the oven. I’d say the thing I make at home the most is banana bread, but a healthier version.
MP: Can you describe your recipe?
BS: I use the ripest, blackest bananas (we also sometimes peel these, and pop them into the freezer in a baggy, which is great for smoothies!), whole wheat pastry flour (the healthy bakers best friend), and coconut oil. The recipe is a very basic, just substituting healthier ingredients.
Part 3: Melange Bistro
MP: What does the Pastry Chef at Melange Bistro do exactly?
BS: I make the bread and all the desserts for the restaurant as well as cakes, cupcakes, and finger pastries for catering or retail orders.
MP: Do you have a flagship pastry, something you’re known for?
BS: I’d say what I get the most orders for, and what I love to make the most, are cakes and french macarons. The flavor and decor possibilities are endless!
MP: How can someone experience your work?
BS: People can try my plated desserts when dining at Melange or place an order by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part 4: Resources and Advice
MP: Where do you get your recipes? Are they original?
BS: When I get an idea for a new dessert, my first step is to Google it. Has it been done before? Have food bloggers attempted it? I think food bloggers are a great resource, although I’m sure many chefs would disagree with me. But, I really think, when home cooks attempt a recipe and not only perfect it, but write it out in a way that anyone can understand and recreate it, that’s how you know a recipe has the best chance of being successful. So many times, I’ve read cookbooks by well-known chefs and their recipes aren’t thoroughly tested, or the way they’re written is unapproachable or just complete nonsense. That was a long-winded way of saying, I look around to see how other people have approached the dish or something similar. I combine all of that information, and I formulate my own approach. If it doesn’t work out the first time, I assess what I think the problem was, and do some tweaking until it’s perfect.
MP: Do you have any advice for novice bakers out there?
BS: My favorite instructor drilled the beginning steps into my head: (1) read the recipe all the way through, (2) read it again, and (3) make sure you have everything you need before you start. I think the best thing to do is focus on the basics. The wonderful thing about baking is, once you know how to make something, the possibilities are endless. You learn how to make the perfect panna cotta or ice cream and the flavor combinations are completely open. The best way to get good at baking is the same as any other field: do it as often as you can.
Part 5: Michigan
MP: If someone was visiting your area for the first time, where would you take them to eat and why?
BS: Ann Arbor has so many wonderful places to eat. Obviously, Zingerman’s is a popular tourist destination, and they absolutely have great breads and pastries I wouldn’t want to deny anyone. Paw Paw fruit is native to Michigan, and Zingerman’s has a Paw Paw Gelato that is really delicious. It has such a strange flavor profile, with deep tropical notes. It’s weird and wonderful. Some of my other favorite restaurants in the area are The Songbird Cafe. They have amazing sandwiches with interesting flavor combinations and some of the most unique and delicious lattes you’ll ever come across. Bigalora has some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. Sava’s is great. They have really good food, and their pastry team is always doing wonderfully delicious things.
MP: Finally, if you were Governor for a day, what would be your first action?
BS: Call Leslie Knope. She’ll know what to do.