Top Chef of All Things Sweet

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     Baking was always a side dish in Megan Ketover’s life. She had her real job – that is, the job that paid the bills – but making desserts was just a hobby that she would indulge in whenever she had extra time. That changed when she noticed that the Midwest Culinary Institute was doing a pastry program. Her then-boyfriend (now her husband) encouraged her to try it, and she decided to just see how it panned out.

     After only six years of enrolling in culinary school with a game attitude, Ketover has taught as a pastry chef instructor at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and the Midwest Culinary Institute as well as taken a pastry chef role at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza-Orchids. More excitingly, though, Ketover just finished taping a season of Top Chef: Just Desserts.

    As soon as she heard that the show would be doing its desserts series, Ketover knew she wanted to participate. “I knew it was going to really hard, going against really talented people. Some people watch the show and they get really stressed out, and I watch it and think it looks really fun. I have the personality where I love to challenge myself,” she says.

    So although many viewers at home are biting their nails during each hour-long episode, Ketover says she was just focused on taking as much away from the experience as possible. “I really tried to walk into the kitchen every day with a really open mind ready to take on any challenge,” she says. “Because if somebody was there and pouting about how difficult it was, that would be a wasted experience. I knew that this was going to be amazing, something I would’ve never done if I weren’t here.”

    Among those once-in-a-lifetime experiences was making a cake for famous baker Margaret Braun, being judged by a member of the Beastie Boys and getting tips from Ron Ben-Israel, a famous pastry chef.

    The combination of keeping an open mind and having some unbelievable opportunities made doing the show something she will always remember. “I got to meet really incredible chefs and do some really challenging things,” Ketover says. “It was such an incredible experience.”

    During her baking career off the show, though, Ketover says baking is just like anything else – it takes making a lot of mistakes to achieve true culinary masterpieces. “That happens a lot where when you’re playing around with recipes, they never work on the first time,” she says. “So, usually what happens is that you have three or four failed recipes.”

    She knows this is the truth when it comes to her personal chocolate chip cookie recipe. “I’ve probably been playing with my chocolate chip cookie recipe pretty intensely for seven years,” Ketover says. “That’s one of the things that I love the most about cookies and pastries. I’ve always been really into science and chemistry – pastries are really into that. I’m usually not just guessing when I’m playing around with recipes. I know what each ingredient does scientifically to the pastry.”

    That said, Ketover says she gets a lot of her inspiration for new recipes from just thinking about everyday flavors or tasting something that could become an ingredient. “Sometimes if I eat something or I smell something or look at something it will turn into a recipe idea,” she says. “I always do my best desserts that way. I let them sit in my head for a couple days, and they become crystal clear.”

    With this constant commitment to try new things in her baking and continually improve, Ketover says she is much more fulfilled with her job as a baker than she had been in her previous day job. “It makes every day so much better,” she says. “Before I did this, I had a career that I was good at, and I made good money. It’s really important to continue to learn all the time.”