KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Pastry Chefs in San Francisco: A Sudden Lack Therof?
Bay Area Bites: culinary rants & raves from bay area foodies and professionals
Previous Posts
Brain Food: Local Events & Exhibits
Opa! for Nopa!
Blue Bottle Coffee Company
Beer Floats
Take 5 with Heidi Swanson
Links Around the Bay (and Beyond)
Citrus Celebration! Lemon Sherbet
Cultivating one's garden
A Jug of Wine...
Squid Jerky at Honolulu's Side Street Inn
BAB Guidelines

'Bay Area Bites' is part of KQED's Blog Authors Collaborative. Blog contributors and commentators are solely responsible for their content. If you're interested in writing or contributing to a blog on kqed.org, email us with your idea.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Pastry Chefs in San Francisco: A Sudden Lack Therof?
My birthday is tomorrow. Depending on whose age you look at in my family I am either not yet approaching middle age or will die in about 20 years. Supposedly this means I am to look at where I've been and where I'm going.

Up until very recently much of who I was, was one thing. Pastry Chef. The title, the position I'd been working for the last fourteen years, although much of the time unbeknownst to me, towards this goal. I identified myself with the restaurant I worked for. Which is a very good thing, because the second question people ask me, after learning how to pronounce my name, is, "Oh really, where do you work?"

I worked as a pastry cook and assistant for almost 8 years when I was given my first pastry chef job. Many of the assistants I worked alongside went on to be famous pastry chefs themselves. And I watched many cooks and sous chefs become chefs of their own restaurants. From my point of view one worked themselves up in the ranks before being given or holding a chef title.

In the last few weeks I have consumed more desserts at restaurants (A16, Campton Place, Rubicon, Two, Delfina.) than I did all last year. And this week I'll be eating more. In part due to birthday dinners, but also as research for a position I'm interviewing for. The object is to find out who is making what in San Francisco. The goal is to assess the palate of the person I may work with, and for him to see what I might make or what sweet things inspire me. We are both looking at where our foggy city, one of the most food and restaurant-centric in The United States, stands on the platform of pastry chef hiring.

I have even called upon the Chowhounders to help me track down the best sugary courses within these forty-nine miles. Sadly, it's been like getting a straight answer out of a lawyer. One dessert here, another there. Some have even been so bold as to tell me about the artificially-flavored butterscotch pudding at Town Hall. (An article about real butterscotch in The Washington Post here.)

I'm not looking for all the sweets to be the same. One dessert at Chez Panisse will be like another at Zuni, Quince or Oliveto. (In fact, if you look at the lineage, these restaurants practically trade pastry chefs like baseball cards.) I want to try the homey American desserts at Salt House as well as Citizen Cake's kooky innovative concoctions or straightforward, simple, seasonal creations like those found at Delfina or Foreign Cinema.

My hope is that I will be eating a pastry chef's creations. I'm not so interested in restaurants that buy their desserts from an outside source. (Think I'm making this up? Read this short article about the disappearing restaurant pastry chefs in NYC.) I'm also a little biased against the chefs who say they're not only the savoury chef of their kitchen, but also the pastry chef. I realize this saves them a lot of money, but I'm really tired of eating warm oozy chocolate cake, creme brulee and tough crusted out-of-season fruit tarts or dishes that look like they just stepped out of the pastry and baking program at CCA.

It sounds like I'm hard to please doesn't it? I'm actually the biggest fan of delicious food you might ever meet. Give me simple, complex, hole-in-the-wall, humble, bold, a quiet ice cream cone, standard traditional fare, technically seamless, fussily plated or a cookie on the go.

Just let me taste the taste of skill, perhaps a dash of inspiration and/or innovation, a love for my craft, tiny sprinkles of deference, whiffs of hope for mastery, half cup of practice, grams upon ounces of question-asking-inquisitiveness, and, although not absolutely necessary: when I close my eyes I'd like to taste that that person's hard work over the years that they've read and worked and asked questions and eaten and tasted helped them land a job where they were taken seriously, and give them the chef title they deserved.

Might you have a favorite pastry chef whose desserts I must have on my extreme dessert-eating spree this week? Any and all suggestions taken into consideration!

Between Meals: SF Chronicle's Michael Bauer blog on desserts in the Bay Area.

Labels: , , , , , , ,



Blogger Sam said...

It's your birthday tomorrow?!
That's not enough warning to make you Bakewell tarts in time! Happy Birthay Shuna.

One of my favourite desserts in town is the Biarritz Rocher at Piperade but I am certain you wouldn't like it for the same reason you don't like another of my favourites - the vacherine at Coco500. These aren't sophisticated ground-breaking desserts - they please in the old-fashioned way which is sometimes what I need - like a chocolate sundae would do.

I loved Boris Portnoy's carrot and avocado dessert at Campton place - did you try that when you were there?

The pistachio pot de creme, served with a red citrus at Perbacco is interesting too.

3/19/2007 7:36 AM

Anonymous Aaron said...

I unfortunately don't have a suggestion, but sadly recognize the brutal truth and honesty you've employed to examine a rather depressing situation.
We can blame savory chefs and restaurant management all we like, but until patrons/diners become educated enough to vote with their forks, and demand finer desserts and not order them when they're not up to standard, things can't change.

3/19/2007 7:55 AM

Blogger NS said...

I'm sure this will come as no surprise to you, but my vote goes to William Werner -- Executive Pastry Chef at Navio in the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. I would also recommend Boris Portnoy, but I see you've already been to Campton Place!

3/19/2007 8:44 AM

Anonymous Janet said...

Sadly as a pastry eater, I also find there are no real desserts anymore. I am very tired of creme brulee, some brownie concoction and tired tired tiramisu. Where are all those creative chefs? I know they're out there.

3/19/2007 9:44 AM

Blogger Charles Shere said...

"One dessert at Chez Panisse will be like another at Zuni, Quince or Oliveto. (In fact, if you look at the lineage, these restaurants practically trade pastry chefs like baseball cards.) "

Really? In 36 years I can only recall half a dozen pastry chefs at Chez Panisse, and none came from Zuni, Quince, or Oliveto, nor did any go there, to the best of my knowledge. One -- Mary Jo Thoresen -- went on to her own restaurant, and I'd eat dessert at JoJo in Oakland any day.

Pastry cooks, maybe. Chefs, no.

3/19/2007 2:47 PM

Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

Hello Charles,

Indeed this is a fine point of enigmatic distinction. I would agree with you except that inside the CP kitchen each person is called the pastry chef. A point I found puzzling during my stints there, but told to me explicitly by a number of people in command there, so I did not argue.

Because of this, many people who have worked at CP in the pastry kitchen put Pastry Chef on their resume. And to this end there are those who have worked at many of the restaurants mentioned, creating similar desserts wherever they go.

3/19/2007 10:18 PM

Blogger Charles Shere said...

"...inside the CP kitchen each person is called the pastry chef."

News to me, Lindsey says. She, David Lebovitz, and Mary Jo always were quite careful to maintain the distinction, which is neither enigmatic nor trivial. A chef is both a cook and an executive, a chief, a person responsible for the entire department and the cooks within it.

The misunderstanding may arise from the Chez Panisse kitchen staff organization: because it's really two restaurants, downstairs and up, open six days a week, each department has a pair of co-chefs instead of a single chef. So there are two downstairs chefs (co-chefs, in fact); two café chefs; two pastry chefs.

(The pastry situation has only obtained since Lindsey's retirement: until then she was the single chef in charge of pastry.)

"Chef" does not mean "excellent cook." It means chief cook in charge. If a cook calls herself a chef on a resumé without actually having served as chef, that's disingenuous. The distinction is useful and should be maintained.

3/20/2007 9:51 AM

Blogger Cialti said...

It's not attached to a restaurant, but I would highly recommend a trip to Los Gatos to visit the patisserie Fleur de Cocoa (open Tuesday - Sunday). The pastry chef is Pascal Janvier. Amazing desserts.

3/24/2007 11:43 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have followed my favorite pastry chef since she was at Restaurant Lulu. I later found out that her name is Chona Piumarta. She then went to that Ogden's "mall" restaurant Lark Creek Steak House, now she's at Slanted Door. Check it out.

11/24/2007 11:23 PM


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Locate CP Restaurants:
Check, Please! Google Map
KQED Food Sites
Check, Please! Bay Area
Jacques Pépin Celebrates!
Jacques Pépin:
Fast Food My Way
Jacques Pépin:
The Apprentice
Jacques Pépin:
The Complete Pépin
KQED Wine Club
KQED.org Cooking
Weir Cooking in the City
Tasty Food Sites
Chowhound SF
Eat Local Challenge
Edible San Francisco
Food Network
Food Talk
Group Recipes
Hungry Magazine
Leite's Culinaria
Mighty Foods
NPR: Food
Om Organics
Serious Eats
SFGate: Food
SFGate: Wine
SF Station: Restaurants
Slow Food SF
Top Chef
Wikimedia Commons: Food & Drink
Yahoo! Food
Yelp: Reviews
Tangy Food Blogs
101 Cookbooks
A Full Belly
Accidental Hedonist
An Obsession with Food
Anna's Cool Finds
Becks & Posh
Between Meals
Bunny Foot
Butter Pig
Cellar Rat
Chez Pim
Chocolate & Zucchini
Confessions of a
Restaurant Whore
Cooking For Engineers
Cooking with Amy
Cucina Testa Rossa
Culinary Muse
Denise's Kitchen
Eater SF
Feed & Supply
Food Blog S'cool
Food Musings
Food Porn Watch
I'm Mad and I Eat
In Praise of Sardines
Knife's Edge
Life Begins at 30
Love and Cooking
Mental Masala
Moveable Feast
Organic Day
Passionate Eater
San Francisco Gourmet
SF City Eats
Simply Recipes
The Amateur Gourmet
The Ethicurean
The Food Section
The Grub Report
The Petite Pig
The Wine Makers Wife
Vin Divine
Wandering Spoon
Well Fed Network
Word Eater
World on a Plate
Yummy Chow
Search BAB

Eye Candy: Food Photos
BAB on flickr.com
Join Flickr for free and share your photos with the Bay Area Bites and Beyond group pool.
Food Books
The Moosewood Cookbook
by Mollie Katzen
Baking: From My Home to Yours
by Dorie Greenspan
Grand Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse's Desserts and Pastries
by Alain Ducasse, Frederic Robertmison
The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking and Entertaining
by Cheryl Alters Jamison, Bill Jamison
Tasty: Get Great Food on the Table Every Day
by Roy Finamore
Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way
by Lorna Sass
The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa
by Marcus Samuelsson
Michael Mina: The Cookbook
by Michael Mina, Photographer: Karl Petzktle
What to Eat
by Marion Nestle
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollan
Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate
by John Scharffenberger, Robert Steinberg
Romancing the Vine: Life, Love, and Transformation in the Vineyards of Barolo
by Alan Tardi
What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea -- Even Water -- Based on Expert Advice from America's Best Sommeliers
by Andrew Dornenburg, Karen Page, Michael Sofronski
The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners
by Matt Lee, Ted Lee
Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own
by Andrew Whitley
Coloring the Seasons: A Cook's Guide
by Allegra McEvedy
All-new Complete Cooking Light Cookbook
by Anne C. Cain
Modern Garde Manger
by Robert B. Garlough
The Spice and Herb Bible
by Ian Hemphill, Kate Hemphill
The Improvisational Cook
by Sally Schneider
Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children
by Ann Cooper, Lisa M. Holmes
Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia
by James Oseland
My Life in France
by Julia Child, Alex Prud'Homme
A Passion for Ice Cream: 95 Recipes for Fabulous Desserts
by Emily Luchett, Sheri Giblin (photographer)
Au Pied De Cochon -- The Album
by Martin Picard
Memories of Philippine Kitchens
by Amy Besa, Romy Dorotan
Simple Chinese Cooking
by Kylie Kwong
An Invitation to Indian Cooking
by Madhur Jaffrey
Hungry Planet
by Peter Menzel, Faith D'Aluisio
Sunday Suppers at Lucques : Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table
by Suzanne Goin, Teri Gelber
Simple Soirees: Seasonal Menus for Sensational Dinner Parties
by Peggy Knickerbocker, Christopher Hirsheimer (Photographer)
The Cook's Book
by Jill Norman
Molto Italiano : 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home
by Mario Batali
Nobu Now
by Nobuyuki Matsuhisa
Cheese : A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best
by Max Mccalman, David Gibbons
Bones : Recipes, History, and Lore
by Jennifer McLagan
Whiskey : The Definitive World Guide
by Michael Jackson
The New American Cooking
by Joan Nathan
by Lisa Yockelson
Easy Entertaining: Everything You Need to Know About Having Parties at Home
by Darina Allen
Cooking at De Gustibus: Celebrating 25 Years of Culinary Innovation
by Arlene Feltman Sailhac
Dough: Simple Contemporary Breads
by Richard Bertinet
Chocolate Obsession: Confections and Treats to Create and Savor
by Michael Recchiuti, Fran Gage, Maren Caruso
The Food Substitutions Bible: More Than 5,000 Substitutions for Ingredients, Equipment And Techniques
by David Joachim
Recipes: A Collection for the Modern Cook
by Susan Spungen
Spices of Life: Simple and Delicious Recipes for Great Health
by Nina Simonds
Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent
by Jeffrey Alford, Naomi Duguid
Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light
by Mort Rosenblum
Vegetable Love: A Book for Cooks
by Barbara Kafka, Christopher Styler
A History of Wine in America: From Prohibition to the Present
by Thomas Pinney
Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years Of Food And Art
by Tom Gilliland, Miguel Ravago, Virginia B. Wood
Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South
by Marcie Cohen Ferris
Washoku: Recipes From The Japanese Home Kitchen
by Elizabeth Andoh, Leigh Beisch
Weir Cooking in the City: More than 125 Recipes and Inspiring Ideas for Relaxed Entertaining
by Joanne Weir
Rick Stein's Complete Seafood
by Rick Stein
The Great Scandinavian Baking Book
by Beatrice A. Ojakangas
Serena, Food & Stories: Feeding Friends Every Hour of the Day
by Serena Bass
John Ash: Cooking One on One: Private Lessons in Simple, Contemporary Food from a Master Teacher
by John Ash
The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook: Eating Well for Better Health
by Donald Hensrud, M.D., Jennifer Nelson, R.D. & Mayo Clinic Staff
Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions
by Fernando and Marlene Divina
The Provence Cookbook
by Patricia Wells
Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World
by Gil Marks
Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World
by Gina Mallet
by Thomas Keller
A Blessing of Bread: The Many Rich Traditions of Jewish Bread Baking Around the World
by Maggie Glezer
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
by Molly Stevens
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
by Harold McGee
Entertaining: Inspired Menus For Cooking with Family and Friends
by George Dolese
The Breath of a Wok: Unlocking the Spirit of Chinese Wok Cooking Through Recipes and Lore
by Grace Young, Alan Richardson
Cooking New American: How to Cook the Food You Love to Eat
by Fine Cooking Magazine
The Japanese Kitchen: A Book of Essential Ingredients with 200 Authentic Recipes
by Kimiko Barber
Arthur Schwartz's New York City Food: An Opinionated History and More Than 100 Legendary Recipes
by Arthur Schwartz
Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher
by Joan Reardon
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes
by Jeffrey Hamelman
Everyday Dining with Wine
by Andrea Immer
Copyright © 2005-2008 KQED. All rights reserved.