2016 San Francisco Rising Star Pastry Chef Mikiko Yui of State Bird Provisions

2016 San Francisco Rising Star Pastry Chef Mikiko Yui of State Bird Provisions
May 2016

Growing up in small-town Japan, Mikiko Yui liked to listened American classic rock. She moved to San Francisco in 2003 to learn English, and though she graduated law school in Japan, Yui took a fork in the road that led to the hotel management program at City College of San Francisco. She externed at Gary Danko with Rising Stars alum Belinda Leong, her first foray into pastry. Next, Yui took a position at Boulette's Larder, where she learned the art of the canelé, a pastry she would wrap her arms around and never let go. While at Boulette’s, Yui also externed at Rubicon two nights a week and later worked there as a pastry assistant with two more Rising Stars alums, Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski.

Two years later, Yui returned to Japan with an expired visa. Taking advantage of every opportunity to pursue pastry, she took up work at pastry shops. In 2009, Yui came back to San Francisco for a position at Coi, before moving on to work for Lincoln Carson at Michael Mina in 2011. She then helped Brioza and Krasinski open State Bird Provisions, and is now solidly at the helm of the pastry operation. Most recently, Yui developed her passion project, a canelé pop-up, that’s turning the classic pastry on its head, literally. Her next move: introduce Tokyo to her California canelé.

Interview with San Francisco Rising Star Mikiko Yui of State Bird Provisions

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start?
Mikiko Yui:
I've been at State Bird for 5 years. I originally moved from Japan to San Francisco to learn how to speak English. I went to City college for hotel management. My first pastry kitchen job was when I externed at Gary Danko with Belinda Leong. 

SK: You mentioned that in Japan in January, people use a lot of yuzu, that people even bathe in it. Can you tell me a little more that? 
I'm from Ehime, where yuzu is grown throughout the city. Having grown up around yuzu groves, the aroma was distinguishable from any other citrus. It signaled the beginning of the winter solstice and symbolized health in the new year. As a result, bathing with yuzu became a Japanese tradition that is still practiced today. 

SK: Who has been your mentor so far in your career?
Belinda Leong at Gary Danko, she taught me speed: how to move well in the kitchen. 

SK: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
I've been in San Francisco now for nine years, including school. I was really lucky to meet Belinda and Nicole Krasinski, they've been here a long time, so it was easy to meet people and fit in. 

SK: From the beginning you've had an ice cream sandwich on the menu, but you didn't have an ice cream maker. How did that work?
When we originally opened State Bird, we wanted to offer an ice cream bar for a dessert tray that would be passed around the dining room. Our solution to not having an ice cream maker was to make a frozen sabayon, which had the closest texture to ice cream. We still keep it the same way even though we now have an ice cream machine because we developed a love for the texture. It also allows us to have actual ice cream on The Progress menu and avoid redundancy. 
SK: What brand of ice cream maker do you use? And how much difference does it make in terms of quality of product and in your daily prep?  
 We use Carpigiani. For State Bird, we continue to make a frozen sabayon. So it does not affect our daily prep or quality of product.  
SK: You seem to be fusing Japan, California, and France together in your cooking. How does this ice cream sandwich represent you as pasty chef? [Yuzu “Ice Cream” Sandwich: White Sesame Macaron Crust, Yuzu Curd Sabayon, Kiwi-Fennel Salad, Arbequina Olive Oil, and Maldon Salt​]     
It's a culmination of my experience as a Japanese pastry chef in America. My love for yuzu is a part of who I am and bringing that ingredient into a traditional lemon curd recipe seemed like a natural choice. The sesame seed macaron also ties into being Japanese, but in a California application. My mentor, Nicole Krasinski, would always use what are typically considered savory ingredients in her desserts. As a result, we garnish the ice cream sandwich with kiwi and fennel.

SK: What's the biggest challenge you face as pastry chef for two restaurants?
Keeping consistency. We've expanded from 25 to almost 100 employees since I've started. I now have 4 assistants to manage. We're hiring right now and it's very difficult to find a pastry cook, almost everyone had a different career before they became pastry cooks. 

SK: What's your five year plan?
I love working here, and have known Nicole and Stuart [Brioza] for so long. They are supportive like family and help promote my canele pop up. I would love to have a coffee shop, my own business here. Or go back to Tokyo and introduce what I have learned here. Or to Asheville, [North Carolina] because my boyfriend is from there. 

SK: Wildest dreams? 
MY: Baking canele for sure. I would love to have my own business in five years. I just started a pop to see how far I can go. I'm still learning so much from Nicole and Stuart. They give me so much confidence to go in any direction I want to go.