The high-school home ec teacher of Michelle Milhous Garland recognized her pupil's budding talent at dessert-making and so nurtured it by creating special classes for her. After earning a food science degree and a certificate in the culinary arts from Joliet Junior College, Garland eventually wound up as pastry chef for Black Creek Bistro.

Age: 42

Title: Pastry chef, Black Creek Bistro

Hometown: Bolingbrook, Illinois

Current neighborhood: Hilliard

The high-school home ec teacher of Michelle MilhousGarland recognized her pupil's budding talent at dessert-making and so nurtured it by creating special classes for her. After earning a food science degree and a certificate in the culinary arts from Joliet Junior College, Garland eventually wound up as pastry chef for Black Creek Bistro.

Describing her visually inspired and seasonally styled approach to baking as "starting with something basic people already know about and then changing it a little ... or a lot," Garland has come up with recent desserts such as a Pear Upside Down Cake made with marsala wine, citrus, cinnamon, pear caramel and ice cream.

What kinds of menus do you find interesting or exciting?

I love Indian and Mexican dishes but enjoy any really good food.

Is there anything on your menu you nevertireof eating?

Chocolate, almost anything with chocolate!

What's your favorite food and drink pairing?

Ilove and hate to say it, but a great burger and a Coke.

What ingredient could you not live without?

Again, chocolate!

Describe a great summer meal you'd make for friends.

Ribs, and a lot of sides. A few standbys I like to make are roasted red pepper potato salad and a pea salad, too.

What influences make their way into your cooking?

The ingredients themselves and the seasons.

What was the best meal you've ever had?

It was at a little place on the beach in Aruba. Thewater literallycame up onto our feet as we ate. I don't really remember the meal itself. It was more the scenery and the moment that made that meal so special.

What's your favorite food-related movie?

"Big Night," a great food movie, and [Peter Greenaway's controversial art film] "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover"