Growing up on a farm in Canada, eating meals made from scratch, Steve Konopelski assumed every family always had fresh baked bread and homemade jams. "Baking was second-nature to me," he says. "I found it very comforting."
He started dancing at 8, and trained at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School for three years at the end of high school. But standing at 5' 7", he knew a career in ballet would be spent playing the sidekick, never the prince. "So I left the ballet world because I was afraid of typecasting—and moved into musical theater, which is nothing but typecasting," he says, with a laugh. Nonetheless, he loved it. He danced in the original cast of Hot Feet on Broadway, was part of Radio City's Christmas Spectacular and performed with Patti LuPone in Gypsy.
When it came time to retire, he enrolled at the French Culinary Institute. "My first day, I was petrified. I felt like I was throwing away my dancer identity," he admits. Instructor Toni Lynn Dickinson, who'd danced with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, set him straight. "She said, 'As a dancer, you will excel in this career because you already understand the importance of spatial awareness, muscle memory, seeing something and re-creating it, repetition. You haven't left that behind. You've just traded the studio for the kitchen,' " Konopelski recalls.
After graduation, he worked under another former dancer: James Beard Award–winning pastry chef Claudia Fleming. "She has such an easy manner of dealing with ingredients," he says.
With his husband and business partner, Konopelski eventually launched a B&B in Maryland that added a bakeshop and later a standalone bakery. In 2015, he appeared on Food Network's "Holiday Baking Championship," and in 2020 started his own YouTube show called "The Sweet Life of Steve."
"As a performer, I spent my entire career in the ensemble and I'm a principal now," he says. "But because of my life in the ensemble, I know the importance of a strong team."
Recently, COVID-19 concerns and a full-time culinary teaching opportunity led to the bakery's closure, giving Konopelski more time to focus on creative projects, like his YouTube show and a possible podcast, blog or cookbook. ("What no one tells you about opening your own business is, If you ever want a day off, a vacation, a moment to breathe, don't open your own business!")
No matter what he's doing, he says he can't help bringing his dance background to work: "If you've known me for more than 10 minutes, you'll realize I'm always performing."
Steve’s Shortcake Recipe
This springtime dessert is featured on episode three of "The Sweet Life of Steve." "It's very easy and yet delicious," Konopelski says. "There's a lot of opportunity for personal embellishments."
- 325g cake flour
- 45g granulated sugar
- 20g baking powder
- pinch of kosher salt
- 1 hardboiled egg yolk
- 110g unsalted butter,
- room temperature
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- about 250mL heavy cream
- In a food processor with the blade attachment, pulse dry ingredients until fully combined. Transfer to a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Add butter and mix on low until it resembles cheap grated parmesan cheese.
- Beat egg, yolk and heavy cream until combined. Add to the dry ingredients, and mix on low until the dough just comes together. Pat dough using the back of a spoon. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least 1 hour, but overnight is best.
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Using a greased 1/3 cup measure as your scoop, dredge it in flour, then scoop out one shortcake and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. For a sweet application, roll each in sugar. To go savory, brush the tops with heavy cream. Bake 10–15 minutes or until golden brown and cake doesn't feel soft in center when lightly squeezed. Let cool.
- 1 pint strawberries, cleaned,
- hulled and quartered
- 1 tbsp orange liqueur
- 2 tbsps granulated sugar
- 1 tsp freeze-dried mint
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 pinches freshly ground
- black pepper
Stir all ingredients into a medium bowl. Allow to sit for 5–10 minutes. May be done with any mixture of firm-fleshed berries.
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1–2 tbsps powdered sugar (to taste)
- splash of vanilla extract
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment, whip all ingredients on medium speed until cream has reached medium peaks, 3–5 minutes. (Cream may also be whipped using a hand beater or by hand with a large whisk.) Serve immediately.