If baking is a science, then European Cafe’s Uliana Komodi is Marie Curie with a pastry bag. Komodi learned the trade early from her self-taught pastry chef mother, eventually bringing her passion with her when she immigrated to the United States from her native Ukraine 10 years ago. At that time, baking truly was just a passion. Komodi passed the time baking cakes for family and friends until her husband suggested she bake professionally. “I said no,” she says. Still, word of Komodi’s flawless confections got around. “I started having people inquiring about wedding cakes, and I wasn’t even sure if I could handle that.”
Look for hands-on classes on French macarons and more.
She decided to take on larger and larger baking challenges, eventually baking out of a rental kitchen to accommodate the near-constant cake orders. It was then that the business-minded Komodi decided to take the plunge, renting out a space near downtown Springfield’s Park Central Square.
Today, Komodi operates European Cafe alongside her sister, Khrystyna Savva. Komodi handles the scientific side of things – finicky chocolates and by-the-book cakes – while Savva handles all things yeast. “My passion is mostly anything that is intricate and difficult,” Komodi says. “I work a lot with chocolate, pastries, mousses, cakes and things like that. My sister loves anything that is dough – she has croissants down to a science. Yeast is too picky for me. I want precision.”
In addition to staples like perfectly-executed cakes and croissants, the café serves a visually dazzling array of European-inspired pastries, macarons, truffles and other sweet treats made with as many local ingredients as possible. Also on offer are espresso beverages and seasonal sippers like lavender lemonade.
Now, as the café rounds its fifth year in business, Komodi is looking to the future. The sisters currently operate an educational space where they teach curious locals the art and science of baking; Komodi also hints at a possible remodel and menu expansion. Regardless of future plans, one thing remains steadfast: the sisters’ passion for delighting taste buds. “We’re very passionate about food,” Komodi says. “Simple, good, delicious food.”
What is your favorite ingredient to bake with and why? I love baking macarons and teaching macaron classes because of the little magic that happens – you put the little cookies in the oven, and they grow and become so beautiful. Still, chocolate is definitely one of my favorite processes. I love tinkering with the tempering and the coloring – the science of it.
What do you like to bake at home or on your day off? We make a lot of waffles. I’ll use this brioche dough instead of pancake batter – it has sugar pearls mixed into the batter, and when you make it, they kind of melt and caramelize. I also bake cinnamon rolls quite often for my son. He’s six, and he likes most of his stuff that I make, which is a compliment because he’s a very picky eater. He loves very particular macarons, very particular lemonades. He does love my cream puffs, though, so I’ll take that.
If you could tell home bakers one thing, what would it be? Just keep doing it. Practice, practice, practice. Even in the classes I teach, I see a lot of people who have never baked before because they’re so afraid of it. They say, “This is too complex for me.” But then I have some students that come back and say, “I kept trying and I’m getting so good at it.” Take me, for example – I taught myself how to make macarons. I had no training, and it took me a long time and a lot of batches to figure it out. It’s truly a science, so make sure to actually pay attention to your process and try to understand your ingredients. Most of all, know that every oven bakes differently. For that reason, I actually don’t use timers in my kitchen – it’s all about being patient and understanding.
What is your first food memory? I was raised by a self-taught pastry chef [my mother] who was truly amazing at baking. I grew up with those things, so I never saw it as anything exceptional – baking was just normal for us. I loved baking with Mom so much, and I still remember when she started trusting me with cakes when I was 11 or 12. We had these huge family gatherings, up to 40 people, and she just told me, “Okay, it’s time to do it on your own.” I remember finishing the cake, and I’ll never forget how my aunts insisted I’d be the one to take over my mother’s trade.
What’s the most intriguing dish you’ve made recently, and why? One of my favorites right now is our new baby – it’s a tart that is filled with caramel and shortbread, and has crème brûlée topping over it. Any time I can have crème brûlée, I’ll do it. [Laughs]
What are your future plans? We really want to figure out a way to do some breakfast and lunch. That’s our next step; it’s just a bit difficult because of the setup in our kitchen. It’s very small, and we’re trying to find a way around it. I suppose that one day we’ll just do it and figure it out then. We also want to flesh out the space. We’ve been here five years, and it feels a little bit tired. I’d love to get some new marble tables and beautiful furniture in here.
European Café, 207 Park Central East, Springfield, Missouri, 417.986.4646,417europeancafe.com