Interview with 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Chef Yigit Pura
Katherine Sacks: What sparked your interest in becoming a chef?
Yigit Pura: As far as cooking, I come from Turkey and I always said there is a cooking gene. If it's in your genes it feeds into intuition, and you need to have intuition to make it perfect. My family always said this wasn't the place for a boy, but ironically my Uncle was a big restaurateur in Istanbul. They never let me in the kitchen, we moved here [to the US] when I was 12 and they thought I should go to business school. I got a partial scholarship to NYU and turned it down. Instead I got a job at a Michelin restaurant here, Meetinghouse. I never got to go to culinary school because my parents couldn't afford it but I kept soaking up every bit of information I could and ended up working up at Gary Danko. I wanted to move to New York City when I was 23 and sent out a bunch of resumes. Through a friend I met the pastry chef at Le Cirque. He introduced me to classical French cooking, understanding the method and ratios behind cooking. It’s a science, a formula. By the time I was 25, I was pastry sous chef at Daniel. I ran the kitchen by myself for awhile, which was a huge challenge. Working there ages you, it’s an intense experience.
KS: Tell me how Tout Sweet came about?
YP: I went to Las Vegas to be executive pastry chef at the [Daniel Boulud] brasserie there. It was excruciating; having lived in San Francisco, in New York City, I didn't want to be in Las Vegas. I sent out my resume for Taste Catering and told them the reason I wanted to move back to the Bay Area. I worked for them for 5 years, and one day got an email from someone called Magic Gloves. I deleted it, I thought it was spam. It ended up being from the “Top Chef” people. I got on and won; after that everything took a different turn, everything happened really quickly.
Two of my partners are the owners of Taste Catering. One of the smartest things you can do is pair with people who are great at the things you aren't great at. I paired with the business side, I'm a creator. Doing the store here at Macy’s was really wonderful. Because they owned the building, we were able to do build-out in 3 months.
KS: Tout Sweet is pretty new. How often do you change the menu?
YP: More often than my staff would like. Since we've started, I’ve almost changed everything completely. The macarons are changed every two months. I never want to be stagnant, that is the beauty of living in California. There is an excess of farmers market and we take advantage of that.
KS: What are the three keys to pastry success?
YP: Success is relative. But the key ingredients: definitely a sense of organization; you almost have to have this unhealthy obsessive desire to be constantly creative, to keep that spark alive, to be hungry and see more; spending long enough as a young cook to mature in the hands of people who will help, so you understand the techniques and also flavor profiles and the heritage.
KS: How do you inspire your staff?
YP: Having worked in the places that I have worked, I developed a certain work ethic, but also having a Buddhist background I wanted to create space where everyone would be happy. Staff work 16 hours some days and they are all smiling. We do gratefulness meditation. When you wake up and you think of all the things you are grateful for, you realize you have much more than you don't. Every morning before we do our pack out and we go through prep lists, for 15 seconds we go around and say something we are happy about for the day.