Chef Meredith Frantz Makes Whole Wheat Pumpkin Cupcakes

Culinary influences?
My biggest influence is Chef Duff Goldman, Ace of Cakes. I followed him way before he had his TV show. He's my favorite inspiration just because he started out in a kitchen, in his house, baking for friends.

Where did you learn to bake? --are you self-taught or did you have formal training?
I am completely self-taught. I was a "cake box" girl for years, and it usually turned out disastrous —Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, add oil and stir! After I got into decorating I decided I needed to learn how to bake. It started out with a couple batches of terrible cake, but the more I did it the better I got. A lot of my recipes are passed down from my grandmother, kind of a secret family recipe which adds more love to the whole thing.

What's the one ingredient you could not live without?
As of lately, I've been getting more into raw baking. To be raw, none of the ingredients is heated above 105 degrees. Raw cacao —the raw form of cocoa is my latest most amazing ingredient. It tastes almost like cocoa but has more of a punch and a euphoric effect. It brings out, they say, more of a loving high. A lot of ancient cultures, Mayans, used it in its raw form.

Favorite Microbrew beer or wine?
I'm not much of a drinker, but when I do drink I usually have Sutter Home or Beringer White Zinfandel, whatever is cheapest. I don't even know if you want to print that!

Favorite music to listen to while cooking?
Bon Iver, if I'm in a mellow mood. The Eels if I'm in an upbeat mood. Or nothing! Working can be kind of this peaceful meditation time where I can stop thinking and just be.

What is your favorite type of food?
Raw food is my latest passion. It tastes better, it's alive.

Most memorable meal?
It would have to be at Quintessence in New York City. It was the first time I'd ever tried raw ravioli, which sounds ridiculous. "What would be in raw ravioli?" was my first question! They used turnip for the pasta and pesto and nut for the filling.

Most memorable cake request you've ever gotten?
It was last week —a four-year-old wanted a purple ostrich playing the violin. I have no idea why, his parents have no idea why. He's not an ostrich fan, or even a violin fan, but it was probably the most creative cake request ever. And the fact that it came from a kid was just awesome.

Most irritating celebrity chef?
I know which one I would say: Rachel Ray. Poor Rachel Ray. I think what she does is awesome, but she's gone a little too mainstream —endorsing anything and everything. It's a little over the top.

What makes indie food better?
When you're doing anything on a smaller scale and there's a lot of love involved, it automatically beats out anything. Love is the magic ingredient, always, in everything.

—Rebecca Troutman, Associate Editor, [email protected]