Chef Lila Colello of Brulee Bakery in Havertown, PA, is one of many of this year’s truly exceptional PHeaSt chefs. The classic French pastry chef has made a career working for the likes of Buddakan, Fork, Parc and the Ritz Carlton, then working for a time on the catering side with Wolfgang Puck Catering the Kimmel Center; Chef Lila also for the Food Network as a part of their culinary production team for Irion Chef America, before embarking on her own culinary vision as a business owner.
Chef Lila’s history with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society – and that of PHeaSt – is not at all expected, and in many ways came to fruition through one of the greatest challenges of her career and personal life.
PHS is thrilled to share an outtake from one of our ‘pre-PHeaSt’ conversations with Chef Lila:
PHS: Chef, can you please share with us a little bit on your history as a chef and business owner with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society?
CHEF LILA: After a car accident deemed me unable to perform the duties that the ‘restaurant life’ required, I decided to go out on my own and start my business. Two years after, I was hit with another challenge: being diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I was a French Pastry Chef unable to work with wheat flour anymore. I took this negative and made it a positive. I re-formulated my classic French pastry recipes to gluten free ones, and re-branded as a Gluten Free French Custom Bakery.
PHS: PHeaSt is a fundraising event at its heart, as you know, benefiting City Harvest; in addition to supporting this ‘sustainable organization’ in particular at PHeaSt– how does Brulee Bakery practice as a green kitchen day-to-day?
CHEF LILA: In our kitchen on a daily basis, we try to be as green as possible: We only bake to order, meaning that we do not have any wasted food or ingredients; we compost, recycle and use compostable packaging for our items that are on store shelves – and we invoice via email in order to cut down on paper waste.
PHS: PHeaSt participants are asked to select produce harvested from local growers all over Philadelphia: did any produce stand out and excite you in particular be it seasonal or unique?
CHEF LILA: I was so excited to see butternut squash and sweet potatoes on the list! These were items that I knew I could turn into a sweet dish with a unique application…something that you wouldn’t expect to see in a French Macaron or as a cream puff filling.
PHS: Can you spill any details about ‘top-secret’ or one-of-a-kind surprising ingredients that Brulee Bakery will be using for PHeaSt?
CHEF LILA: We will be using rosemary in a unique way in the filling for the French Macarons.
PHS: Do you have any tried and true techniques and advice you can lend to PHeaSt guests?
CHEF LILA: I find myself needing blueberries and apples pretty much all year long, and since we do our best to use as much local as possible, we tend to stock up on both during their respective growing seasons.
As soon as apple season is in full swing we ask the farmers for a bushel of SECONDS (because when using apples for baking, they don’t have to look beautiful and seconds are much more affordable). Apples keep for months in the fridge, so if you have some extra room (or in our case, a whole extra fridge)…we buy the apples at the height of the season and have them on hand til spring! The same goes for blueberries, but in their case, we buy a ton at the very end of the season and freeze them.
PHS: What is the one baking or cooking ingredient every home cook should be growing in their garden?
CHEF LILA: I would say the one ingredient that everyone should grow and keep on hand at all times is Rosemary…it can be used for so many savory and sweet applications (from chicken dishes, to shortbread to salad dressings…). It’s also a fairly hardy plant and can be grown in a pot inside during the winter.
PHS: Do any food trends in particular stand-out at Brulee bakery in the Fall/Winter culinary season?
CHEF LILA: I think Pumpkin Spice is not only a trend but a CRAZE during the autumn months. We have to do pumpkin related things in our bakery because it’s what people want…but we try to put our own spin on it to heighten the experience a bit (much like the pumpkin mascarpone cream puffs that we will be featuring at PHeaSt).
PHS: Finally, What is the one autumnal baking ingredient you absolutely cannot live without?
CHEF LILA: The one autumnal ingredient that I cannot live without is cinnamon…it seems to find its way into everything.
Please join us at the Navy Yard for a wonderful tribute to the growers who provide healthy produce to so many in need in Philadelphia. PHeaSt opens at 7 p.m and is a wonderful, fun event that serves a very important purpose.
Tickets will also be on sale tonight at PHeaSt and are tax-deductible.