Pastry Chef Belinda Leong
Gary Danko | San Francisco
Belinda Leong, a San Francisco native, was interested in the culinary arts as a child but always regarded it as more of a hobby. Leong debated whether or not to focus her career in graphic arts or culinary arts, recognizing the many similarities between the two. In 1998, she decided that the best option was to pursue her interest in the culinary arts by getting an internship with Aqua. This internship gave Leong a real sense of the restaurant industry, as well as 8 months of fine dining experience under Pastry Chef Jason Gingold.
After Aqua, Leong immediately enrolled for formal training at San Francisco City College’s Hospitality and Restaurant Program. Shortly before graduating in 1999 she began an internship at the newly opened Gary Danko. There, Leong spent a little over a year slowly moving through the ranks and experimenting at different stations. As she learned the techniques of working in the pastry department, she realized that pastry was her calling. Mentor Gary Danko entrusted Leong with the creation of parts of the dessert menu and in 2001 formally recognized her as the Pastry Chef. In between, Leong refined her skills with work experience at Daniel, Aureole, Fauchon, and Citrella in New York.
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AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
BL: I had an internship for eight months in 1998 working under Pastry Chef Jason Gingold at Aqua. When I was still in culinary school I got an internship at Gary Danko and I’ve been there ever since. I also worked at Restaurant Daniel, Aureole, Fauchon, and Citarella Restaurant, all in New York, and Thomas Haas Chocolates in Vancouver.
AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
BL: I went to culinary school at San Francisco City College which was a worthwhile experience, but I am pretty much self-taught so I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
BL: Gary Danko – he allowed me the freedom to learn and make mistakes in his kitchen.
AB: In which kitchens have you staged? Which experiences were the most influential?
BL: I staged with Michael Mina at Aqua in San Francisco. In New York I staged with Eric Bertoia at Café Boulud, Bill Yosses at Citarella, and John Miele at Aureole.
AB: What question gives you the most insight into a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
BL: I ask what their style is in their dessert making approach, because I want to hire someone who keeps with my style and ideas.
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
BL: Speed and consistency are gained through experience. You have to be driven and really strive for success. Above all, a chef should be responsible and take pride in what they’re doing.
AB: What are your top 3 tips for pastry success?
BL: First and foremost, be consistent. Second, focus on just a few flavors so as not to confuse the diner’s palate. Lastly, remember the three most important components for a good dessert are technique, temperature, and texture.
AB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under appreciated or under utilized?
BL: I like the texture of feuillatine, playing with cocoa nibs and fruit purees.
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