Interview by Miriam Cattell, Foodie News Correspondent for Gardener Guides
Welcome to the sweet side of Gervais! Kaminsky’s Dessert Cafe recently opened next door to its big brother, Pearlz Oyster Bar, on Gervais St. in the Vista. In addition to freshly made desserts, they have an extensive coffee/espresso collection, dessert martini offerings and small savory dishes. Click here for menu. We recently sat down with Pastry Chef Hayley Miller, to find out who is behind all these delicious desserts.
Foodie News: How did you become interested in becoming a pastry chef?
Hayley Miller: Well growing up, my grandmother used to work at the church kitchen at Shandon United Methodist down off Devine Street, and, before I was born, she managed several grocery store bakeries. So every time I would go to her house, which was normally every single day, I would be in the kitchen with her. She would always pull me into the kitchen and we would bake stuff…that’s kind of how I got started. My career is pretty much because of my grandmother! When I went to her house it was just like, “have at it!” “Wanna do this?…we will do this!” She would go sit down and leave me in the kitchen. Later on, a culinary arts program was offered at my high school and I enrolled in it. I stuck with it and that’s how I’ve ended up here. I had always been more of an artsy student – I always did art camps and stuff like that. This job is like a fusion…the food part which I love, but it is also super artsy.
Foodie News: Did you go to school to become a pastry chef or did you learn on the job?
Hayley: A little bit on the job. Here and there, but I did go to school – I went to Greenville Tech. I got my associates in culinary arts/ baking & pastry. I know a lot of culinary stuff too. I enjoy the culinary part of things because it is more relaxed. I love doing culinary work sometimes because it’s different from baking – baking is so precise. With culinary you can just throw things together, but with baking you can’t just throw things together, you have to follow a recipe. So, culinary is definitely my fun side when I get to do that.
Foodie News: Where have you worked prior to Kaminsky’s?
Hayley: I worked at Two Chefs To Go and that is in Greenville, SC.
Foodie News: On average how many desserts do you create in a day?
Hayley: Here at Kaminsky’s we do cakes, pies, cheesecakes, cookies, and brownies and I mean normally probably a couple dozen a day. Sometimes on Saturdays and Sundays I will come in and decorate like 20 cakes and we will do a bunch of pies, and a ton of cookies and brownies. So, a lot!
Foodie News: What is your most favorite dish to prepare at Kaminsky’s?
Hayley: I really like to prepare cheesecakes as they are fun and I like doing cookies. I’m big about our cookies. I am very funny about what temperature the cookies go in at, how they form, how they are scooped, and how they are made. I mean you have to have the perfect cookie, so I am very particular about those, like super particular. So, that’s probably my favorite to make because I am so funny…like that’s the one I care about, which is probably like the smallest thing, I mean it isn’t what we are known for, but it’s like that one thing that I have to have.
Foodie News: What is your most favorite dish to eat at Kaminsky’s?
Hayley: Probably Red Velvet cake!
Foodie News: What do you consider to be the most essential item in your kitchen?
Hayley: Essential item would probably be the mixer, the oven, and the walk-in cooler. As far as ingredients go I would have to say eggs because eggs are pretty much in everything. Got to have those! Probably measuring cups and measuring spoons too.
Foodie News: What is the most popular signature dessert at Kaminsky’s Dessert Café?
Hayley: Red Velvet Cake and Tollhouse Pie. Tollhouse Pie is kind of like Charleston’s signature. Like if you are in Charleston and they tell you to visit Kaminsky’s, then they are going to tell you to try Tollhouse Pie.
Foodie News: Do you bake a lot at home as well? If so, what is your favorite dessert to make at home?
Hayley: No I don’t bake at home. (laughing) because I am always doing it here, but if I am doing it at home I like to use real French butter cream, like the old school, traditional kind. It is a lot different than what most people think of as butter cream. It has like eggs and really hot sugar. There is no powdered sugar in it at all, so it is really silky and fluffy and when most people taste it they are like, “Oh my gosh! What is this? I have never had this before. This doesn’t taste like normal icing!” I love making cakes with that. I make pound cake at home too because it is easy….a pound of this. Pound of that. Pound of that.
Foodie News: Kaminsky’s is also known in Columbia as the first draft wine bar. Do you see a lot of people coming in hoping to pair a good drink with a delicious bite of dessert?
Hayley: Yeah and I enjoy coming in and drinking wine as well, like when I am not working. They have a very good selection. Not only do we have 4 reds and 4 whites on tap, but we have a lot of bottled wine as well. We do a fun fetti cake, so a lot of people will get like birthday batter martini or some people get something coffee related and pair it with a chocolate cake. You see a lot of people pair things together. I have more of a fruity pallet, I mean I like chocolate, but I love fruit and as far as drinks go I wouldn’t probably get a chocolate martini, but something more citrusy or fruity.
Foodie News: What is the most complicated dessert dish that you make at Kaminsky’s? and how long does it typically take you?
Hayley: Probably are Gluten free dessert called the Double Dare Cake, because it just takes a long time, well because it is gluten free. You have to really watch your ingredients its just butter, sugar, and chocolate. That is pretty much it, so you really have to know what you are doing with it. The ingredients have to sit in a water bath in the oven and it has to hit a certain temperature, so it is kind of tricky for it to set up and still be like a cake.
Foodie News: What made you want to work as a chef at Kaminsky’s?
Hayley: Well, because it was a new kitchen and it was a new opportunity. I didn’t have to follow behind somebody… it was kind of already structured from the one in Charleston… I was kind of already doing my own thing here. I am the one in charge. It was a new kitchen and a new location. It just seemed like a good opportunity for someone who is really young.
Foodie News: Lastly, what do you love most about being a pastry chef at Kaminsky’s Dessert Café? Favorite part?
Hayley: Everybody I work with. I love being in the kitchen and having free range to be creative. I really like the people I work with here at Kaminsky’s and at Pearlz. We have a really good group of people. I mean you don’t want to go to work if it’s not with people you like. So, we have a really good manager and all of our managers are awesome. I think everyone I work with helps being here every day!
930 Gervais Street
Columbia, SC 29201
Directly Beside Pearlz Oyster Bar
Monday-Friday: 5:00pm – Midnight
Saturday-Sunday: Noon – Midnight
Yum. Wood-smoked pork. It smells great and tastes even better. Smoky pork sandwiches, pulled pork suppers and fall-off-the-bone ribs. 3 sauces – vinegar, mustard and red. Here in Columbia, located dead center in South Carolina, barbecue capital of the world, there is a whole lot of competition for Q-lovers’ business. Barbecue joints are everywhere, from roadside shacks and trailers to sit-down restaurants where Q is served off the menu or buffet-style with country vegetables, cornbread and banana pudding. Barbecue is offered by roving Q trucks that show up at craft breweries, festivals and downtown parking lots at lunch time. Barbecue cook-offs are center stage at local festivals each spring and summer. So where do you go for the best? One of our all-time favorites is Little Pigs Barbecue on Alpine Road in northeast Columbia. We aren’t the only ones who rate it high. Little Pigs Barbecue was chosen Best Barbecue in the South bySouthern Living magazine. Hard to quibble with their pick. We recently sat down with Champ McGee, master barbecuer.
You started off working at Little Pigs when you were young and worked your way up. How did all of that happen?
The guy who owned Little Pigs, Lawrence Britton, was my neighbor and when I was 11 years old, he asked if I wanted to help out (at his restaurant). I started out washing dishes and whatever else I could do. Over the years, I learned to do everything. In fact by the time I was in high school, when I got off from school, I went to work and everyone else who worked there went home. I ran the place totally by myself until supper time when Lawrence came in to help with the supper rush. I have been at Little Pigs almost all my life.
How did Little Pigs start out?
Little Pigs has been in business for 45 years. The one on Rosewood Drive, before we moved here, was the 38th franchise out of Memphis. It had 36 seats and it was a small restaurant. People walked up to the counter and we chopped the BBQ in front of our customers. There were two wooden chopping blocks in front and behind us was a great big pit where we smoked the meat… and we’d cut the meat up and make sandwiches or plates right there. There was no buffet back then.
How did you make the transition between having a pit you served from and a buffet and how has the buffet grown over the years?
In the 1962, we decided we would start a small buffet at the Rosewood Drive store. It progressed fast and the buffet was quickly becoming a larger part of the business. When we opened up on Alpine in ’78, we went totally buffet. You can still get a BBQ sandwich, you can still buy a BBQ basket, but it’s 99% buffet. You know, it’s over the last 10 years that we’ve expanded the buffet. We still had pretty traditional BBQ stuff when we first put the buffet out here. It was about half the size of what it is now. You had your coleslaw, and your barbecue beans, rice and hash, the different kinds of pork, and fried chicken with rolls and pickles and banana pudding. It’s grown from there. We have a lot of variety on this buffet today. I make jambalaya and we make chicken pot pie – both from scratch. We added tomato pie. Everything we try and the customers like, we keep. I think there are over 40 items on there and we rotate things out every once in a while. Mac and cheese is our most popular side.
Where is the pit located?
I have a pit in the back and three cookers outside. We do a lot of the chicken and ribs outside.
Is that all wood smoked? What kind of wood do you use?
It’s all wood smoked on hickory. Definitely hickory. I’ve got a chicken breast on my menu that’s a mesquite, but everything else is hickory.
How long does it take to cook something like a shoulder?
18 hours. We cook the meat for 18 hours at about 225 to 235 degrees. We cook the BBQ overnight, and it’s smoked on hickory wood the whole time. Then we take it out, sauce it, let it marinate in the sauce until the next day, a full 24 hours, put it back in the smoker and bring it back to temperature and let it smoke. Not only is the meat smoked, but the sauce actually gets smoked into the meat. I don’t think anybody else in town does that and it makes a difference in the flavor.
You use three different sauces for your BBQ, right?
Yes, plus out here in the buffet area, we also offer meat with no sauce. We have shoulders that are cooked over hickory wood and we put it out on the pig pull, without sauce. Fridays and Saturdays, we use between 12 and 15 shoulders on the pig pull, which is the front leg. The ham dries out more, but the shoulder stays moist out here under the light.
What seems to be the favorite dish that people like to get off of the buffet?
Mustard BBQ. In this area, that’s going to be the biggest hit. I don’t keep up with the weights, but we probably use about 3,000 pounds of ribs a week. No other BBQ restaurant in town gives you all you can eat ribs on the buffet.
What about favorite side dishes?
Macaroni and cheese, number one. Hash is number two. Our hash is different from any other hash. It’s the Little Pigs of America’s hash. It has no heads, no feet, no livers, no junk. Typically, when you think about hash, BBQ people use hash to get rid of what they couldn’t make BBQ out of. We don’t do that at all. It’s pork ham and chuck roast. All meat. Period.
What’s your favorite dish to prepare?
I really love making the chicken pot pie. It’s a lot of fun. You’re using fresh carrots and celery. You caramelize the onions and add flour and milk and you make the roue to just the right thickness. I use pie crust on top and bottom. We serve probably 50 gallons a week – it’s really good.
What’s in tomato pie? A lot of people have never had tomato pie. I’ve always wondered what goes into it.
It’s tomatoes and basil, caramelized onions, sour cream, mayonnaise, and cheddar cheese. Fresh basil is what makes it.
Did you ever think about owning Little Pigs when you were younger?
I bought in early on, and then when Lawrence died, I bought his wife out. I did have another career – I ran the dining room, dormitory, mail room and reservation section for the Police Academy for 32 years, 5 months, and 17 days, but I never quit Little Pigs. I worked at the Police Academy from 4:30am until noon, and I was at Little Pigs starting at 12:30pm every day.
Do you have any good food combinations that you’ve tried over the years that people wouldn’t necessarily think about?
Not really, other than things I like to eat. I like french fries on my BBQ sandwich. And skins on my BBQ sandwich. That’s really good.
When you’re catering, is there a set menu?
We have nine different menus on the website. We don’t just do BBQ. We do weddings, and I can make foods from any custom menu. Matter of fact, right now I’ve got a wedding I’m doing and they want bruschetta fig gorgonzola, and I’ve never made that before but we’re going to figure out how to do it. We do anything. Any custom menu you want for catering.
4927 Alpine Road Columbia, SC 29223 | 803.788.8238
Friday & Saturday: 11am-9pm