She’s made a name for herself in the family as a talented chef, fresh out of a three-year stint at Flour Bakery in Back Bay and South End; prior to that she worked in Napa Valley for Thomas Keller in Bouchon and Morimoto Napa. She met her fiancÃ©e in Bouchon; the forest fires prompted the couple to head east.
What’s the difference between the West Coast restaurant scene and Boston?
I would say the west coast is a lot more intense for sure. You have people who come from all over the United States to work anywhere. Everyone there works hard, is dedicated, struggles to be there. Everyone has passion. It’s a lot of competition. I really enjoyed working with people who shared the same priorities.
What is it like to work at Flour?
So, going from the very intense Napa Valley restaurant scene to Joanne Chang’s flour bakery was completely different. She focuses on creating a good atmosphere and creating her own culture. Everyone is nice. It is completely different. But I definitely learned a lot of management skills from Flour. She offers many professional development courses, ranging from finance and mental management of your team, to proper paperwork management as it relates to human resources and proper procedures, as well as writing an e -formal email. It definitely taught me a lot of professionalism and a lot of management skills for sure.
What do you think is the future of the hotel industry in Boston? No one really knows when tourism will fully return.
I will be honest. At first I was really worried. I said to myself: will I have to change careers? Now I am very optimistic. Boston is great. We bounce back. I commute, and even driving for the past two weeks, it’s getting more and more traffic every day. Our restaurants are full. I am very optimistic.
What do you think will entice people to go to a restaurant? Who are your customers?
We are connected to the convention center, of course, so to all these customers. COJE is a great group of restaurants; I feel like we have a good audience. Every time we open a new restaurant, people check out everything we’re working on. [There will be] a lot of tourists because of the hotel, but I think COJE has a lot of followers.
What made you want to get started in the restaurant business? Was there a first job or experience that really sparked your interest in baking?
When you’re young, nobody knows why they go to school. I wanted to do radiology, I was on the waiting list for a program. I loved baking cakes, and it started from there. While on the waitlist for this radiology program, I joined the Art Institute of Michigan, where I studied baking and pastry making. I like to work with my hands. I am a very creative person and being able to create things with my hands is a creative outlet. I gave up radiology. I haven’t looked back.
Do you have any early culinary memories that influenced you?
I grew up in Ann Arbor. To please ourselves after church, we would opt for dim sum. The place next door was a bakery, and I was still looking forward to that chocolate cake with sprinkles. I love nuggets. I love Asian pastries. And I always had ice cream cake when I was a kid. You know, having dessert has always been a treat.
What skills are required to be a pastry chef that other types of cooking might not require?
Precision. I have the impression that pastry departments are always underestimated in a restaurant. People think we are playing with sugar. We make cookies every day. They don’t take us seriously. There are a lot of skills behind this when it comes to measurement. We weigh everything! And of course, always using the highest quality ingredients. You can’t just look at something and say, âHey, that must be a little fluffy. I’ll just sprinkle baking soda on it.
What’s the most challenging and rewarding part of your job?
They are the same ! I like to supervise people. I mean, at the same time, managing is still one of the hardest, because you manage people individually. You know, you don’t just manage a team. You deal with each personality differently, because everyone reacts differently. But, at the same time, it’s so rewarding. I always get people coming back to me and saying, âYou’ve been the best mentor and the best boss I’ve worked for. So it’s great to have hired people in Boston who worked for me before.
What is your signature dessert?
We have this apple dessert with Armagnac. It’s like a flower pie. When you read the description, you don’t even imagine it coming to your table. It is therefore about this flowered apple pie with almond cream and apple pie spices inside, cooked with Armagnac. We make salted honey ice cream with that. We coat everything with powdered sugar and a drizzle of caramel.
Do you have a favorite snack?
I love to make spring rolls. It’s quick, easy, and fresh. In winter, I always do pho. I’ll always have a jar in my fridge, that’s for sure. On the snacking side? Honestly, probably cheese sticks.
Any advice for home bakers?
Get a scale and measure everything in grams.