The Business of Pastry

by Rebecca Cohen
Antoinette Bruno
April 2014

Recipes

Restaurant

As if we needed another reason to be California dreamin', Los Angeles has become the most fertile ground for pastry in the country. While some bemoan the disappearance of New York City's pastry chefs, Los Angeles patissiers are thriving, whether in restaurants or striking out on their own in pursuit of tailor-made opportunities. Carlos Enriquez, corporate pastry chef for the behemoth Patina Group, has watched the pastry landscape shift nationwide over the last several years. "Pastry chefs are a dying breed in restaurants," he says. "Desserts don't add to profits, they add to the experience. A lot of restaurants cannot afford it now." But in L.A. pastry chefs are digging in and finding a way to make it in the land of the dreamers and the jaded.

The Veteran – Sherry Yard of Helms Bakery

Pastry Chef Sherry Yard

Pastry Chef Sherry Yard

Cookies: Chocolate Chip, Rainbow, Rookie Cookie; Shiny, Volcano, and Garbage Cookie

Cookies: Chocolate Chip, Rainbow, Rookie Cookie; Shiny, Volcano, and Garbage Cookie

Brunoise of Pear with Umabashi and Shiso, Pear-Shiso Sorbet, and Oolong and Umabashi Tea

Brunoise of Pear with Umabashi and Shiso, Pear-Shiso Sorbet, and Oolong and Umabashi Tea

"I found my temple at the farmers markets," says Sherry Yard of her L.A. arrival. A household name, Sherry Yard is a pillar of the Angelino pastry scene. When she left New York then San Francisco behind for Los Angeles in 1994 to be Wolfgang Puck's pastry chef at Spago, the pastry scene was in its infancy. "When I first came here the plated dessert was pretty much nonexistent," she says. Yard's contributions over her 20 years in the Puck empire, as well as those of her many protégés, have been a driving force in advancing the industry.

Yard is credited not only with changing the face of desserts in America, but also with providing a fertile environment in which many new chefs have been able to take root and flourish. "In L.A. we have a lot of people who have held on for a long time and are still in the game. I've just had my 20-year anniversary. Nancy [Silverton] was here 10 years before me. I have a chart I put together of all the different kids I have around town that are still in the game." Most recently she's teamed up with Sang Yoon of Lukshon and Father's Office to revive the historic 4,000 square foot Helms Bakery in Culver City, an enormous undertaking through which she hopes to bring great food and pastry to the masses.

What initially drew you to L.A.?
I was in love with reading about all the women chefs in San Francisco—Alice Waters, Joyce Goldstein. Coming from New York, which was so male-centric, the only thing I could do was go west. I moved from New York to San Francisco to work with Michael Mina and open up Aqua. Once I got there, I got a phone call from Wolfgang [Puck].

What was the culinary scene like when you arrived? How has it evolved?
There were limited choices. Piero Selvaggio was at Valentino, Ken Frank at La Toque, Nobu Matsuhisa, Nancy [Silverton] and Mark [Peel] at Campanile, Michel Richard at Citrus. You could actually name all the restaurants off the top of your head. Now there's so many in each neighborhood. It's a hotbed of food, bubbling over. Coupled with the ethnic cuisine that's always been here, which has now been amplified.

What is the root of L.A.'s lush culinary scene?
There are pastry chefs and chefs that are here to mentor, passing things on and sharing. Their longevity is the big difference.

Why did you decide to move on from Spago?
I felt like my job was done there. It was time to break out on my own and try my hand at something new. [I wanted] to have a stage to perform on and showcase the perfect viennoiserie, the most amazing breads. To have a place where everyone can come in, children and adults, to feed people inclusively, not exclusively.

How will Helms Bakery be structured?
There will be many vignettes inside the space—I call them incubation tanks. We'll be roasting our own coffee and there'll be a coffee, tea, and juice area. A deli with specialty sandwiches for which all the bread will be custom made. We'll have our own mill to mill our grains. A pastry area in the back. We'll have a dinette where folks will be able to be served. Behind that a rotisserie and salad station. It'll be a one to two meal stop. Grab a cup of coffee, have some lunch, get a roast chicken for dinner tonight.

What kind of equipment does it take to run something like this?
You name it, we have it. A German doughnut set up, an Austrian grain mill, steam kettles, a rotisserie. It's a chef's play land.

What does the future hold for L.A.'s culinary world?
It's a great food city now, and it's going to be an amazing food city. 'If you build it, they will come.'

The Corporate Chef – Carlos Enriquez of Patina Restaurant Group

Pastry Chef Carlos Enriquez of the Patina Group – Los Angeles, CA

Pastry Chef Carlos Enriquez of the Patina Group – Los Angeles, CA

Coconut Tapioca, Mango-Pineapple Relish, Passion Fruit Gel, Sesame Brittle, and Carbonated Spicy Mango

Coconut Tapioca, Mango-Pineapple Relish, Passion Fruit Gel, Sesame Brittle, and Carbonated Spicy Mango

Blackforest Cake, Caramelia Namelaka, Kirsch Cherries, and Marscapone Gelato

Blackforest Cake, Caramelia Namelaka, Kirsch Cherries, and Marscapone Gelato

As Corporate Pastry Chef for the leviathan Patina Restaurant Group (30 outlets on the west coast alone!) Carlos Enriquez has got a lot on his plate. But it's just what his background has equipped him to handle, with serious time put in at hotels, resorts, and casinos in Vegas, Colorado, and Yosemite National Park, tempered by the sophistication and refinement gleaned from his time at the 2-Michelin Star Alex at the Wynn. One of the hallmarks of Enriquez's position, aside from well-honed multitasking and organizational skills, is the need for flexibility. With responsibilities that range from creating desserts for fine dining restaurants to supplying retail items for the market cafés to catering multi-million dollar events (the Patina group has been responsible for the Emmy Awards for the last 20 years), Enriquez does not have the auteur-like freedom of a restaurant chef to determine his own style. "I pretty much adapt to the setting and the clients' needs," he says.

Fortunately Enriquez has the necessary administrative back-up, freeing him to spend time in the kitchen training his staff of 24 cooks—and playing therapist as often as boss. "I have a good working relationship with my employees, and when you have that they come to you with their problems," he says. But this hands-on approach suits Enriquez perfectly. "I'm glad I'm not just a paper pusher."

Why did you gravitate towards large-scale positions?
I wanted to learn faster. Working in a hotel, it has multiple units and different restaurants, so I learned quicker because of that environment.

How many outlets do your oversee?
We currently produce for 13 of the 15 restaurants on the west coast. We have 12 retail market cafes situated in performing arts centers or office buildings. We have three Coffee and Milk bars. And to top that off we have five major catering kitchens.

How big is your staff?
Thirty-four total. Out of that three are drivers, three are packaging personnel, one pastry chef, one head baker, two pastry sous chefs, and 24 pastry cooks. I also have pastry chefs I collaborate with: Elizabeth Whitlock, at Patina; one in downtown Disney; one more in Orange County.

Is the L.A. food scene very different from Vegas?
Oh yes, very different. In Vegas the scene is very touristy, they turn and burn covers. In L.A. it's new flavors and old flavors. There are a lot of young chefs trying to make a name for themselves, pushing the limits. We're lucky.

Why is pastry thriving in LA?
What I've noticed here in L.A. is pastry chefs partnering with restaurateurs to open their own things. Jordan Kahn opened Red Medicine. Lincoln Carson left Michael Mina and opened Superba Food & Bread. Sherry Yard with Helm's Bakery. They're smart, they're like "we still want to do pastries, but we want to make money, so what do we have to do?"

The Chocolatier – Ramon Perez of Puur Chocolat

Pastry Chef Ramon Perez

Pastry Chef Ramon Perez

Caramelized White Chocolate with Burnt Milk Ice Cream and Espresso

Caramelized White Chocolate with Burnt Milk Ice Cream and Espresso

Blood Peach Sorbet with Watermelon, Dehydrated Yogurt, Lime Zest, and Caramel

Blood Peach Sorbet with Watermelon, Dehydrated Yogurt, Lime Zest, and Caramel

Ramon Perez has cooking in his blood, and his pedigree has only improved with time. His foundation in the kitchens of Napa's Auberge du Soleil and his parents' restaurant Citronee was only the beginning, paving the way for stages at several 3-Michelin Star European restaurants and the title of Executive Pastry Chef for the David Myers Group. He was also champion of the 2nd Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition in 2011. But Ramon felt he still had more to learn, and so he turned his sights to chocolate. In 2012, Perez traded his executive chef title for a consulting position in order to focus on launching Puur Chocolat.

"Chocolate was something I really fell in love with when I was operating Boule Patisserie for David [Myer]," he says. "I was enamored with the endless possibilities of what chocolate could do and that's where my whole creative focus is right now. I'm trying to expand my repertoire and have a fun, creative space to integrate my style of plated desserts into chocolate form." Currently online-based, and producing out of NoCal in Sacramento, Perez is continuing to participate in and contribute to the L.A. food scene. He's working with the Line Hotel in Koreatown, which is to feature his decadent treats in its Café, and he's also working toward launching his own retail storefront downtown. "We'll be doing some viennoiserie as well as beautiful cakes and modern style pastries [alongside] our chocolates." More than just a boutique, this sounds like the launching of a brand.

Why did you leave restaurants behind?
I haven't really actually left it, I'm still helping David out with Hinoki and the Bird. I don't think at any point in my career I can ever leave that behind; that's where I got my start and where my passion is. But I did feel it was a good time for me to step out and do my own thing.

Have your responsibilities changed since becoming an owner?
Now I wear every hat, which has been a task to say the least. Our team is just my wife and myself.

How did you find a space?
It worked out perfectly: it's my father in-law's welder repair shop. He has a huge warehouse with a retail section he wasn't using. So we gutted it and built a chocolate lab.

Why Sacramento, not San Francisco or Los Angeles?
Real estate is much cheaper here, and right now we're focused online. There's no need for us to be located in a heavily populated area where rent is more expensive. We don't have to worry about foot traffic.

What kind of equipment are you using?
I have a lot of the equipment I won in the StarChefs pastry competition. And I have a Selmi tempering machine, which is my only employee. And an enrobing belt.

What's been the most difficult part of launching your business?
Packaging. It's been my nightmare. When I look into redoing my packaging I'm going to hire someone to do it for me.

What comes next?
I want to open up chocolate shops around the world. Start off in the states, then eventually Tokyo, London, Singapore.

The Glacier – John Park of Quenelle

Pastry Chef John Park of Quenelle – Los Angeles, CA

Pastry Chef John Park of Quenelle – Los Angeles, CA

Blackberry and Aloe Vera Sorbet with Cucumber Greek Yoghurt

Blackberry and Aloe Vera Sorbet with Cucumber Greek Yoghurt

Strawberry Short Cake Ice Cream and Blueberry Pie Ice Cream

Strawberry Short Cake Ice Cream and Blueberry Pie Ice Cream

A SoCal native, John Park grew up understanding the importance of a refreshing frozen treat on a hot California day. His experience in fine dining restaurants across L.A. and Las Vegas, from Aqua to Watergrill, Michael Mina's XIV to Lukshon, only solidified his love and respect for frozen desserts, while honing the pastry mastery that goes into creating exceptional ice creams. "The technique of being able to make an ice cream with great texture, great richness, that looks good on the plate—it says a lot about a pastry chef," he says. "I've never had to feel bad about not leaving L.A. There's a tremendous amount of talent. All the people I've been able to work with speaks for itself."

After 11 fast-paced years of restaurant life, Park opened his ice cream parlor in the family-oriented city of Burbank in 2013. He takes pride in his status as a friendly neighborhood business, but that doesn't mean he's satisfied with bland suburban flavors. "I think that because people trust us with the basic flavors, they will branch out to a [candy cap] mushroom-caramel ice cream, or sweet soy sauce. Little by little, we're trying to sneak those in. "Over the eight months Quenelle has been operational, Park has offered a staggering 140 different flavors. And with plans to open a second location in Santa Monica by the summer, it doesn't look like he'll be slowing down any time soon.

As a chef who came up in the L.A. industry, who have been your mentors?
Wonyee Tom basically laid the foundation for me. Jordan Khan, who is brilliant. Having worked at some of the best L.A. restaurants under Michael Cimarusti, David Faber, and seeing how they run a kitchen—those skills are transferrable. I consider them mentors as well.

How did you get the finances together to launch your business?
My wife and I saved up money and we took out a few loans. No investors, no Kickstarter, everything was under our name. We wanted to do it our way. It's scary, but it makes us work that much harder.

What's the biggest challenge you've come up against?
Doing it all on our own, without investors. We opened at the end of the summer, going into the slow season. Being able to survive that first winter was challenging.

What kind of equipment are you using?
We use Pacojet and Carpigianni ice cream machines. For flavors that aren't as popular, we use the Pacojet, because it makes smaller batches.

How do you maintain a creamy product?
I've been testing recipes for a long time and came up with a ratio we're happy with. We do really small batches, one to three gallons at a time, and we go through it pretty quickly, so we don't have to worry about it too much.

Is your business purely retail, or do you do wholesale as well?
We do some wholesale. Unfortunately, in the last five years a lot of kitchens have started downsizing their pastry departments. Fortunately, because of my history, I know a lot of chefs around the city. If they're outsourcing, it's nice that they can get product from someone they know.