Interview with Pastry Chef Luis Villavelazquez of Absinthe Brasserie & Bar - San Francisco, CA

October 2011

Antoinette Bruno: When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Luis Villavelazquez: I grew up in the industry. My mom worked at a restaurant, Sally's—it’s a staple. I grew up there and was always interested in the baking part; they have their own bakery commissary. Here [at Absinthe], we have a café and we do a farmers’ market stand and we do wholesale so similarly.

AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
LV: I went to city college. Recommend it? Yes, definitely.

AB: Who’s the coolest chef you’ve worked with?
LV: Sam Mason.

AB: Describe a culinary technique that you have either created or borrowed and use in an unusual way.
LV: Free form crème brulée. I think I've borrowed it and adjusted it. But being able to use the new gelling agents to give a crème brulée texture so you can quenelle it and brulée it and it will stay in that shape.

AB: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
LV: One of my favorites is figs, Fernet Branca, and honey; I think because figs are very earthy. Black missions have this dirty taste to them even though they grow from trees. Fernet Branca helps balance that, and bring out the sweeter notes of figs.

AB: What is the hardest thing you have to do?
LV: Fire friends, but it is a business. Knowing that at one point you work so well together, but something happens and that work situation has changed. It is a business and you need to know how to keep your business growing and customers happy.

AB: What are your top three tips for pastry success?
LV: Jokingly, lots of coffee. Understand that pastry is a 24-hour kitchen, everything can be produced at any time throughout the kitchen. And third, definitely take a lot of art and design and sculpture classes because a lot of that helps; as you become more skilled on a drawing board or chocolate, it helps you. I usually draw mine out before I even start.

AB: Where do you fit into your local culinary community?
LV: Here we have a wholesale account under the café. We have a farmers’ market stand, heavy promotion of sustainable, local farms, using local ingredients. Buy local and seasonal. Not using waste that can't be composted. We have to follow certain guidelines to be at the farmers market, very little paper waste, everything has to be compostable. Every year we have to give them a list of all the farmers we use and buy from.

AB: What has been the proudest moment of your career?
LV: Being the youngest pastry chef in San Francisco. I'm 25, but started when I was 22.

AB: If you could do one thing over and over, what would it be?
LV: Travel immediately and work for free. Give yourself up to the best restaurants. We've lost a lot of the French system—staging and getting to know techniques. Now it’s about pumping kids through culinary school.

AB: What’s next for you?
LV: To be able to open up a restaurant with my best friend in San Francisco that brings the late night dining scene of New York here, and be able to stay open until 4 am and serve good food. Start turning San Francisco into the more modern New York, have a good place to hang out 24 hours a day.