Celebrated pastry chef Gesine Bullock-Prado has written several cookbooks including “My Life from Scratch,” “Sugar Baby,” “Pie It Forward” and “Bake It Like You Mean It.” She is also one of the featured celebrity chefs who will be whipping up really good things at the Mohegan Sun WineFest Jan. 25 to Jan. 27. Java was intrigued because a) she lives in Hartford (VT) b) because she is a pastry chef, and c) because she is new to the WineFest this year. It wasn’t until hours before a Java interview, that I realized she is also the sister of actress Sandra Bullock, has her law degree and at one time, ran her sister’s production company, Fortis Films. Gesine lives with her husband on their working farm with an assortment of animals and pets, including a dog who likes to chew up the bedspreads. A marathon runner, Bullock-Prado is also a contributing editor to a slew of magazines and can often be seen on a variety of television show cooking segments. She was sweet and accommodating as she prepared to come to Connecticut to be part of the Celebrity Chef Dine Around on Jan. 26 and the Bubbles and Bonbons event on Jan. 27, and Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: What brings you to your first Mohegan Sun WineFest?
A: I’ve really never really done one before, I actually stayed away from them. Then I was given the opportunity in Connecticut and thought “what the hell.” I think I stayed away from these events when I had my pastry shop because owning the business was so exhausting between the tax on your brain and body. I haven’t had the shop for a few years and have been writing the cookbooks and teaching. I am refreshed and just felt the need again to feed millions of people again. It’s a resurgence. I need to get the need to have a pastry shop again out of my system!
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a chef/baker? Was cooking important in your family when you were growing up?
A: My mother was a baker. I have been baking since I was a wee one. We were raised Germany so I grew up with this love of pastry arts from Europe, Austria, Germany, Hungary, but was also an American where Oreos are divine. We ate micro-biotic as kids but on the holidays, my mother took out the big guns and did wonderful baking. We were all very keen on sugar because we didn’t have it in the house except for Christmas. When I got to college I was able to finally have an oven of my own and while everyone else was studying for the bar, I was baking gingerbread houses. I find baking to be a release and a comfort.
Q: You have your law degree, you ran your sister’s production company, you owned you own very famous bakery and now?
A: I write my cookbooks, I teach. We have a little farm, a lovely plot of land. We have orchards with currants to gooseberries and raspberries. We have bees coming in the spring so we can have our own honey and we have maple trees we tap and make into syrup. We grow our own hops and brew our own beer. I make the excuse that the beer has a connection to baking. I am a marathon runner and run to raise money for cancer causes. And as a pastry chef, you have to run because of the butter, it has to come off the butt somehow.
Q: What is the one thing a visitor could always find in your refrigerator?
A: Butter. That’s the lovely thing about Vermont and New England. There are wonderful creameries. Vermont Creamery just came up with a maple and sea salt butter. Wonderful.
Q: What would be your perfect meal?
A: For me it’s seasonal. It will usually involve butter and eggs and a crusty bread. I am pretty easy, especially at dinner, a lovely loaf of bread and cheeses and home brew and some homemade cured sausages.
Q: TV reality shows on cooking are everywhere now. Would you ever do a show?
A: I am doing one for PBS called “Life From Scratch” that will be about the sweet and the savory and looking at foods and ingredients literally. We are shooting in the spring. I think the popularity of cooking is a lovely thing. Cooking is terribly comforting and I think there is a broader range of people now who love it. And people aren’t just cooking anymore. They are going out and getting chicken coops for their yards so they have fresh eggs. People are getting more conscious about what they are putting in their bodies. And baking truly brings you back to family memories, the wonderful smells that emanate from an oven.
Q: Your philosophy about baking, especially for those who are afraid of failure?
A: I started baking in earnest after my mother died. Some of our favorite moments are around butter and sugar together. We both had a need to perfect something. I keep trying until I have mastered a recipe. I approach a recipe and say ‘I will be the master of you’ even if I make mistakes to get there. I tell people to keep trying until you have mastered the recipe. It can be done. I feel like the master of all the things I like to do.
Q: Since you are the baker, I assume you are the one responsible for birthday cakes in your family?
A: It is not even a question that when we get together I bring dessert. Although on a recent birthday of mine we were in Paris and chef Pierre Herme made my cake. As far as my sister, whatever I make she likes. She’s easy peasy.
Q: What will you be cooking at the Sun WineFest?
A: For the chefs big thing, probably Gateau St. Swanare, a choux pastry, pumpkin caramel swan thing, and for the Bubbles & Bons Bons, a lovely little maple cream that is a cross between a mousse and a crème Anglaise. And a little maple cotton candy.
The Mohegan Sun WineFest includes the Celebrity Chef Dine Around, seminars, the elite Cru Tasting, Grand Tasting, Bourbon Tasting, Oyster Open, Bubbles & Bons Bons and Grape Stomp. Ticket information and schedule are at mohegansun.com.