Brazilian American pastry chef Thiago Silva. (Photo/Courtesy EMM Group)

Chef Spotlight: Thiago Silva’s whimsical, amazing cakes

Vitals: At just 28, Thiago Silva has created quite a name for himself among celebrities and discriminating New York City diners as a pastry chef whose whimsical, intricate desserts please both the eye and the sweet tooth. His masterpieces include cakes topped with delicate champagne bubbles spun in sugar, or elaborate glitter, stars and confetti, and even an entirely edible creation made in the exact likeness of former NFLer and “Live with Kelly and Michael” host Michael Strahan. The Brazilian American – who is happily married and father to a year-old baby boy – also the Corporate Executive Chef at EMM Group restaurants in New York City, where he creates jaw-dropping desserts for The General, Catch NY, and the newly opened La Cenita.

Experience: Silva – who emigrated to NYC from his native Brazil with his brother, two sisters and mother when he was just 8 years old – helped his mother decorate cakes when he was still in his early teens. He thought his love of pastry was just a passing hobby – in fact, he’s trained as a savory chef – but a chance internship at a local bakery helped him realize that his talent could take him extraordinarily far. He’s worked at NYC restaurants including Atria and Abe & Arthur’s and has held his current position at EMM Group since January. The ZAGAT “30 Under 30” award winner also owns a successful creative cake company, with celebrity clients like Sofia Vergara, band Lady Antebellum, “America’s Got Talent” host Howie Mandel and the New York Giants.

On the reason why he owes his career to mom: “I originally started decorating cakes at 14 to help my mom with her catering business. At the time, she wanted to grow her business with the addition of decorated cakes. So she signed up for a cake decorating class but asked me to come with her to help translate the instructor’s teaching into English. My sister said ‘no way’ and since I’m a momma’s boy, I said yes. And it sparked my interest – I picked up that piping bag and was hooked. I remember it really well, because I was the only male and the only kid in that class. My mother never really became that good at decorating and from then on always asked me to decorate cakes for her.”

A cake Silva recently made for the 25th anniversary of fashion designer Donna Karen's company.

A cake Silva recently made for the 25th anniversary of fashion designer Donna Karen’s company. (Photo/Courtesy Donna Karan Facebook)

On incorporating Latin influences into work: “I always sneak a secret component in my desserts that is a little Brazilian or Latin inspired. For example, I might make a shortcake – but it has sweetened condensed milk. Or I might present a dessert that’s Asian inspired, but with a sauce that incorporates Latin flavors like coconut, mango and pineapple.”

On the biggest difference between work as a pastry chef and designer of whimsical cakes: “Making cakes feels natural to me – it’s something I’ve done since I was little. The main difference between cakes and plated desserts is interaction with the client. When I make a cake, I talk with the client about their ideas, my ideas and then I spend a lot of time developing that vision. The end result is something we share together – it creates a beautiful moment. With plated desserts, I’m free to go wild and put what I love on a plate that goes to 400 or 500 people a night but I don’t necessarily get that first-hand, direct interaction.”

On the celebrity who helped launch his career: “Sofia Vergara was my first celebrity client. She first found me when she booked a birthday party for her boyfriend at Abe & Arthur’s and asked if the restaurant could make a special cake. I designed the cake for her and she loved it! She even called me up to say thank you, and I thought that was really sweet. The cake was chocolate with vanilla buttercream and it was made to look like a champagne bottle inside a bucket with ice. It looked completely real but everything was edible. Since then, I’ve made a few cakes for her but that first was very special.”

This cake was ordered by actress Sofia Vergara as a birthday gift to her boyfriend Nick Loeb.

This cake was ordered by actress Sofia Vergara as a birthday gift to her boyfriend Nick Loeb. (Photo/Courtesy Thiago Silva)

Favorite indulgence: “I can’t resist a steak. I prefer mine pretty medium rare, but I have to say that my favorite is Brazilian churrasco. And then I like all the traditional Brazilian sides: pink beans and pork rounds, collard greens with bacon – it’s all just so delicious. I grew up eating that type of food and try to make it on my own once in a while.”

An item on his bucket list, revealed: “I definitely have plans to open up my own shop one day. I know what it will be and I know what I’d like it to be – that’s definitely something I want. I’m blessed to do what I love and I want to continue moving forward.”

His best advice for making the perfect dessert at home: “Don’t try to do too much – less is more when you do dessert. It’s easy to get carried away, thinking about mixing this or that. Stick to the basics and make the same desserts over and over again so that you really perfect those recipes.”

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