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Kelsey Chrystal

What is your official title?

I am the Pastry Chef at Irvings and the Owner of Kelsey’s Cakes.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

Come in between 6:00 and 6:30 and set up the bakery area, and then I play barista for about a half hour. I’m terrible at it, but it’s fun, and sorry to anyone who orders coffee drinks between 6:30 and 7:00 when I’m up there. Then I just dive right into baking. You know, everyday is a little different, I don’t really have a set menu. I really go with whatever I feel like based on the season, or the day of if there’s something I want to play around with, so I just go for it! And that really fills up my day.


Where do you get your inspiration?

I’m very active on Pinterest, I read a lot of food blogs, do a lot of searches for what the top restaurants are doing, like in NYC, just to see what’s going on and what they’re doing. I try to be really different and to not do the same stuff that everyone around here is doing. I like to broaden people’s horizons. I love using in season stuff, and local stuff. I try to use as much local as I can; it’s getting a little harder coming into fall right now, but now using a lot of pumpkin, sweet potato, beets, just different vegetables that I can incorporate into my desserts.


What kind of projects are you currently working on?

Every week we do catering for big companies downtown, and I get a lot of special orders in weekly for cakes and cupcakes – I never really know what’s going to get thrown at me, which is kind of the fun part. But I’m always happy and willing to work with the people who are ordering to figure out what they’re looking for – maybe it’s a fun birthday cake for their kids! So no major projects really, right now I just really like exploring new flavors, and trying to incorporate beets into a cake and not grossing people out! It’s about introducing people to new flavors while still keeping it familiar so people aren’t afraid to try it.


Can you tell us about your culinary background?

I grew up loving to bake, my grandma was a really good baker, so I think I got a lot of my love for it from her, and my family’s really into food, so that always helps. I went to culinary school in Arizona. Culinary school was nothing like I thought it would be. First off, I was wearing a giant chef’s coat and checkered pants, walking through my apartment complex everyday in Arizona. But it really wasn’t what I thought. I thought I’d just be baking all day, but it’s really hard. You’re constantly learning recipes, like everyday you’re learning around five, and then at the end of the week you are tested and graded on those recipes. It’s a little stressful. I just walked around with my big rolly suitcase filled with my utensils, so that plus my checkered pants – man, I was really cool.


If you could only have one utensil in the kitchen what would it be?

My KitchenAid, for sure. The big mixer!


Any upcoming events that you’re particularly excited about?

Yeah, Arcadia Brewing Company’s opening. I am helping to develop some recipes for their desserts! It’s going with their theme, which is like BBQ and smoking flavors that I’ve never really used before. Like for example, the other night I was trying to smoke bananas, which does not work. But yeah, they told me what they want and what they’re looking for in their desserts, and so I’m doing a lot of taste testing. My boyfriend helps with the taste testing, and so do my parents, thankfully, so I don’t weigh 800 pounds! I’m a little nervous, but I think it’ll be really cool. I currently do desserts for them, I bake cakes for them every week, so there’s already some familiarity.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

I think that I love that it’s so eclectic. You can walk down the street and see so many different types of people and everyone’s getting along and working together, and you really don’t see that in most cities. But everyone’s just out and working together here, it’s really cool. And I live downtown, so I really don’t leave this mile radius.


What can be done to improve our beloved Kalamazoo?

As a downtown resident, besides the parking, hmm, that’s a great question. I think just bringing more people downtown in the evening, or even during the day for shopping or different activities, so they are coming down here, but staying for dinner, which I do think is happening more because the restaurants are really cool. And I think there’s a lot down here that if people don’t work here or live here they don’t see. Like people don’t even know what Irvings is, and it’s been here forever. It’s hard, because I think people in Portage can get stuck there, so if there are ways we can get new people into Kalamazoo I think that’d be awesome. And I grew up in Portage, so I get it, but there are really great things going on here and I hope people can see that and want to check it out.


What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

I think one of my biggest learning moments has been you have to leave a place to realize how much it has to offer. When I left after high school to go out west I told myself I’d never come back here, and well, here I am! And I’m so glad I’m back here, you just don’t realize how good of a town it is and what you have to offer until you’re in another world. The people here are just so nice and loving and really care for each other, and you definitely don’t get that in other places.


What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’m a closet Britney Spears fan. So sadly, a lot of that. I’m a Top 40 girl. I don’t get to control the music in the kitchen, so I don’t listen to that while I’m cooking. I did put it on one time, and it got turned off pretty quickly.


What is next up on your reading list?

A lot of cook books. I try to read other stuff, but I always come back to it. I read a lot of food blogs. One of my favorites is called Local Milk. She’s very country, and uses really different flavors together like thyme and goat cheese and fruit, you know, just things you wouldn’t normally think would go together. And that’s totally my style – savory and sweet, spicy and sweet.


What’s your process for trying something new?

When you cook and bake, sometimes you just have to go for it, and half the time it’s disgusting, like my bananas. It’s a lot of work, and it can be disappointing, but you just move onto the next one, and keep going till you find the thing that works! That’s what’s cool about working here, I can try it out on some coworkers, or I can put it out and see what people’s reactions are. I love that I get to interact with the customers so much and see what their reactions are. It’s fun to ask if they like it, what they’d do differently, and just get their feedback. I’ve worked at some bakeries in the past where I’m kind of stuck in the cave in the back, and you’ve got the customers out front with their reactions written all over their faces. I love being able to come out to the front to gauge reactions and to see what they want – I totally take requests, too. If people request something, I can usually get it out in one to two days. People will just pop their heads in the back and say ‘hey, can you make this or try this’ and I get that done for them!


How do you take your coffee?…or do you?

Black. Love Waterstreet.


What is your favorite app to use?

Probably Pinterest. On that a lot. Or Songza, which is a music app, I really like that one.


Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?

We go to The Union a lot. And I love Food Dance.


Are there any community affiliations or passions that you have?

I’ve done some mini internship-type things working with kids teaching them how to bake. I had a 13-year old girl back here, she worked with me once or twice a week. And I’ve also worked with the Girl Scouts, doing some baking classes, which has been really fun.


If you could bring any national or global event to Kzoo, infrastructure aside, what would it be?

Lollapalooza! Or any big music fest would be awesome. I went to Lolla this year, and it was a blast.


What is your dream for Kelsey’s Cakes?

Eventually I’d love to have my own place. Not just a place during the day, but a place that people can go after dinner, too. I like the idea of pairing good beer and wine with specific cupcakes and different types of desserts. You know, it’d be more than just a bakery. You can go there and hang out, like a dessert bar! Go get a cupcake and a glass of wine. Someday, if we can get enough people down here where it’s really busy at night, it could happen! For now, I love where I’m at, and Irvings is a great place for me to grow!


Kelsey, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.