2015 Seattle Rising Star Pastry Chef Junko Mine of Cafe Juanita

2015 Seattle Rising Star Pastry Chef Junko Mine of Cafe Juanita
November 2015

Junko Mine has always had an artistic eye. Her channels for expressing creativity are breads and pastry. It had been merely a pastime until she departed her home in Japan for California. While studying graphic design at San Diego State University, she began to realize that pastry was her true calling.

After graduating, she stayed in San Diego, enrolled in a one-year professional pastry program, and got a job at San Diego Yacht Club. A move to Los Angeles landed her at the Four Seasons, working with Pastry Chef Federico Fernandez. Ready for a new challenge, she traveled north to Washington State. Mine went to The Willows Inn on Lummi Island and, for three days staged for—and later worked next to—Chef Blaine Wetzel, who influenced Mine profoundly.

During this time, she found a new interest in wild yeast. While working in a laboratory with geneticist Aimée M. Dudley, she studied their DNA, which further cemented her fascination with it. Now at Café Juanita in Kirkland, Mine is experimenting with natural yeast and working closely with James Beard Award winning Chef Holly Smith, whose simple-delicious philosophy inspires her. With an artistic lens and the ambition to bridge the gap between Japanese and American pastry, Mine embodies the honest, artful pastry and bread she creates.  

Interview with Seattle Rising Star Pastry Chef Junko Mine of Cafe Juanita

Sean Kenniff: You said you want to be a bridge between America and Japan in terms of pastry. How do you envision this happening as you progress in your career?
Junko Mine: As I am in between these two countries, and I see that there are common interests shared between the two cultures. For example, some Japanese people I know, including the Japanese media, are interested in the science of farming and baking. In the United States, they are researching on wheat, and trying to find ways to cultivate foreign wheat for good cause. There is natural dry yeast I got from Japan. It has different characteristic compared to regular commercial dry yeast we find in the grocery store. This is just one example. If I could be the one who can be a bridge between United States and Japan, and bring something new, I would be happy to do so.

SK: What does America have to learn from Japnese pastry and vice versa?
American pastry chefs could learn more of the flavors of Japanese ingredients, and the wabi sabi [the beauty of imperfection]. Japanese pastry chefs could learn more of a fun and festive style from American pastry.

SK: What was the most formative food experience you had in Japan? And what has been the most important experience in the United States?
The formative food experience I had in Japan was when I tried rum cake in my childhood for the first time. To me, I feel like adults think kids would not appreciate food with high quality ingredients. But I believe children can tell the difference. Eating good food with good ingredients is important. In the United States, being taught by great chefs how important it is to use quality, fresh and local ingredients for better taste and good cause.

SK: Can you tell me about how the chocolate bread dessert represents your style of pastry?
Fall is coming, the color of the leaves changes from green to brown. I like organic and sustainable things and nature, and like to see how I can make a dessert that represents the season. So, I make a dessert with chocolate and bread, and tell the story of the season changing.

SK: If you weren't a pastry chef, what would you be doing?
JM: I would like to be doing food photography, as well as food styling and working as a natural bath product artist.

SK: What's your five year plan?
JM: I always like to create something using my hands. I want to be able to do what I want to do and have people appreciate it. I want to introduce my ideas little by little. In five years, I want to bring my culture from Japan and introduce what I know and then bring the United States to Japan.


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