There’s an old saying that the people of the world are divided into two categories: cooks and bakers. But shouldn’t there be another category: those who are neither? For those of us who ﬁt into the latter group, help is available right here in Prince William. Want to work with a chef who was featured in Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine? You don’t have to leave the community, or even your home, to do so–just say hello to Jason Shriner, a.k.a. the Aubergine Chef.
Shriner compares his life to the 2009 movie Julie & Julia. Like Julie, Shriner ventured into the online world with his video baking blog complete with free demonstrations and has never looked back. “At ﬁrst it was just a hobby to keep up with my skills and to help anybody who was at all interested in learning how to bake,” he says. “But eventually I felt an obligation to the blog and people started requesting episodes and it took oﬀ from there, including branching oﬀ into teaching classes and ﬁnally oﬀering private classes.”
After earning an Associate in Science Degree in Baking and Pastry Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, Shriner continued his studies to complete his Bachelor’s in Food Service Entrepreneurship. But when stints in numerous restaurants and bakeries proved to be not what he was looking for, Shriner left baking to pursue a second career in real estate. But it was his original passion that led him in May 2010 to start his video blog at www.auberginechef.com, which according to Shriner was designed “to help encourage all the bakers, and would-be bakers, of the world to try new things, experiment and most of all, not to be afraid to start baking!”
“I cover a wide range of products and techniques, but I typically specialize in smaller rustic pastries like pies and European-style cakes as well as fundamental techniques,” said Shriner. Asked about the diﬀerence between a European-style and an American-style cake, Shriner explained that “typically European cakes are covered with marzipan and have more integrity, while American cakes are covered with icing and have a soft ﬂuﬀy texture.” Who knew?
In his more than 120 online videos, Shriner demonstrates everything from the fundamental techniques of separating an egg to advanced techniques such as making buttercream roses. “I use recipes from old college textbooks, cross-reference to other people’s blogs and, of course, I try recipes from Rachael Ray’s magazine,” said the chef. It was after making the Pina Colada Cake from a recipe by Rachael Ray that Shriner said he received a message “asking if they could feature my blog in their Talk with Friends section. It was perfect too, because they tend to only feature blogs that include recipes from their magazine and I borrow a lot of ideas from them.”
While Shriner loves pastries and desserts, his “absolute favorite” recipe is his own pumpkin mousse pie. Years in the developing, Shriner’s pumpkin mousse pie is, in his words, “a holiday treat for anybody I can bring it to. People who hate traditional pumpkin pie cannot get enough of my pumpkin mousse pie.”
As an oﬀshoot to his video blog, Shriner oﬀers baking classes and courses at the Manassas Park Community Center. Scheduled on a monthly basis, classes usually meet over a one- to two-day period while courses can extend over several weeks. Both classes and courses are intense and challenging. With fundamentals such as releasing a cake from the pan, baking cookies and working with chocolate, Shriner creates classes that allow participants to develop their skills step by step. “You learn a lot quickly. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from both formats,” he said. There is a fee for each class, and registration can be made online on the Manassas Park Community Center website.
“With a group of students we learn from each other and can share past experiences. I get to know more people and in turn the students get to make new friends. It’s a fun experience,” Shriner said. This might explain why he sees so many repeat students, who sign up for multiple courses, learning new techniques over time.
One of his students, Deanna Botkin said “I took two of Jason’s baking classes, cake baking/decorating and pastry/dough. The classes were easy to follow, informative, and a fun way to connect with other people who share your interests! Jason is an exceptional instructor; very hands-on and patient! I once made a lemon meringue pie at home and was having trouble with some ingredient conversions; I emailed Jason and he walked me through it, even though it was a Friday night! I also have a 6 year old son and Jason has helped out with a number of children’s events at the community center, including cupcake and cookie decorating. He’s not only a magnificent chef, he’s a fun and amazing person and definitely becoming a fixture in our community!”
The Future is Purple
In case you can’t tell based on the ever-present purple chef coat or the name of his business, which can mean both a type of eggplant and a shade of purple, this hue is Shriner’s favorite. When inspiration for the blog ﬁrst struck, he had planned to name it The Purple Chef. Finding the name taken, he quickly adapted to the current moniker, recalling a brilliant aubergine food coloring used in a gum paste class he took early on in his career.
Fast forward to the present, and Shriner has aspirations of hiring additional chefs and experts, each shooting their own videos and writing their own posts, to be a part of the Aubergine Chef. Recently, he’s also been investigating commercial building vacancies and thinking about starting a recreational culinary school. So keep an eye out, the Aubergine Chef may be coming to a location near you!
Make sure to check out Shriner’s website, www.theauberginechef.com, for recipes, video demonstrations and class schedules.
A graduate of American University’s School of Communication, Olivia Overman has written articles for a number of online and print publications. Overman can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.