Kitchen Window: Tip Top Cakes baker inspired by her grandmothers

Savannah Simmons ices a cake at her job as a pastry chef at Tip Top Cakes in Coralville on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. Simmons has several years of experience in the restaurant world — she also works at Cobble Hill and Caucho in Cedar Rapids — and she studied culinary arts at Kirkwood Community College. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Savannah Simmons ices a cake at her job as a pastry chef at Tip Top Cakes in Coralville on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. Simmons has several years of experience in the restaurant world — she also works at Cobble Hill and Caucho in Cedar Rapids — and she studied culinary arts at Kirkwood Community College. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Who: Name: Baker Savannah Simmons, 21, of Cedar Rapids

Where: Tip Top Cakes, 708 Fifth St. #7, Coralville

Q: What do you do?

A: I bake at Tip Top Cakes, and I waitress at Caucho and Cobble Hill.

Q: How did you get into baking?

A: When I was a teenager, on my 16th birthday I really wanted to get one of the big fancy cakes ... My mom couldn’t afford it, so I was like, “I’ll just make my own.” I made a 7-layer cake, with sparkles, and each layer was a different color of the rainbow. I coated the whole thing with blue butter cream and piped on stars. We didn’t even eat half of it, it was so big.

I also was influenced by my family. My granny lives in Barbados. I was born in Iowa, but I lived in the Caribbean for seven years; that’s where my dad is from. My granny had a bakery, and at her house she had two kitchen-grade ovens and a huge Hobart mixer, and she used to make cakes and coconut bread and chocolate turnovers. My grandma here in Iowa also bakes — coconut cream pies and pretty much everything Iowa grandmas bake. This year for Christmas she did cream puffs. She always used to make cinnamon rolls and rhubarb muffins and really good stuff.

Q: How did you get started professionally?

A: I went to Kirkwood’s Culinary Arts program. I found out I had a really big interest in not just baking but culinary arts and sciences in general. I got my first job as a line cook at Pullman, and I worked there for a little over a year. I was a lead line cook. That was the first place I got to cook in an elevated sense.

Working at Tip Top Cakes is kind of giving me that view into the bakery world before I decide if I want to do more of that area or the maitre D’ area.

Q: What makes you interested in being a maitre D’?

A: Maitre D’ is the front of house, in charge of planning the events, making sure the dishware looks nice. You need a lot of knowledge about food and spirits and cocktails, and you’re talking to customers. I’ve had experience on both sides. As a waitress and as a front of house person, I can understand what it’s like to talk to customers, what customers expect, but I can also understand the process, the limitations, what a kitchen can and cannot do. It’s kind of nice that I can pull from both sides.

If I need to talk to a customer I can, but if I need to go back into the kitchen and cook a steak to medium-rare, I can do that too.

Q: How do you balance your schedule between waitressing at night and baking in the morning?

A: On Tuesdays I’ll get to the bakery around 5 a.m. and later I get to Cobble Hill or Caucho around 3 p.m., and I’ll be there until around 11 p.m. ... I just like to work. I don’t think I’ve had less than three jobs in a while. I figured, the more pieces of experience I have, the more I can apply them to my own practices.

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I know at some point I would like to own my own business … one smaller, homey place and one finer dining place. I might be moving to Chicago at the beginning of next year. I really like to travel. I’d like to live in Spain or Italy for a year or so, also.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not working?

A: In my little free time I really enjoy practicing foreign languages. One of my dreams is if I have a customer who speaks another language, I can talk to them in their language. I don’t speak any fully yet ... I’ve been practicing Spanish, French, Swedish, Italian and Japanese.

Q: What keeps you so motivated?

A: I just like to advance my knowledge. A lot of what I’ve learned has been in the field. You learn a lot in culinary school ... but if I hadn’t worked at Pullman, for instance, I wouldn’t have the mentality that I do or have the work ethic I do ... if I hadn’t been in these jobs and these positions, I wouldn’t have learned the mentality that I have. I think it’s really important to get a lot of experience and not presume you can get an education and then be 100 parent proficient at something.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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