Julia Child once wisely pointed out that a party without cake is just a meeting. Meetings are things that clog our calendar, generally preventing us from doing our real work. Therefore, cake. Or, at least a scone, croissant, cookie — anything made of flour, butter, and possibly sugar. In this executive chef-worshipping modern culinary age, it’s easy to overlook the talented pastry personnel baking the savory rolls and sweet desserts that augment a dinner out. But, we have all seen how a simple dessert course has taken out many a Top Chef contender. That’s because baking requires scientific precision along with artistic creativity. We’ve dusted off these sweet creatures for a little of the limelight this month. Say hello to three Eastside pastry chefs.
Cheerfully disposed Jacquelynn Beckman has been mistress of the ovens at Trellis Restaurant in Kirkland since just before the holiday rush of 2015. She joined the team as her first culinary adventure north of her native California, where she worked as a pastry cook for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and as pastry sous chef at Carmel Valley Ranch and 24 Carrots Catering.
Beckman grew up in Huntington Beach with her parents and two big brothers. She always loved baking and often tried to bribe her brothers and their friends to play with her via a proffered plate of cookies or other such treat. By high school, Beckman was the go-to girl for birthday cakes among her friends, and she devoured every book she could find on the subject of baking. When a relative in culinary school suggested Beckman consider attending pastry school, she was sold in two shakes of a powdered sugar sieve.
At Trellis, Beckman seeks to make baked goods as naturally as possible. Her confections aren’t necessarily meant to pose as healthy treats, but perhaps “healthier” than most. She experiments with cutting down sugar when possible, eliminating high-fructose corn syrups altogether (saying honey works just as well), using beets for color and sweetness when appropriate, and even incorporating gluten-free and paleo elements (like coconut or almond flour).
“But it’s not a gimmick,” she says. “It’s not about beets or gluten-free. It just happens to be.”
“It’s not about beets or gluten-free. It just happens to be.”
Professionally speaking, Beckman says it has taken a while to establish her sense of authority as a young woman in a restaurant kitchen — to be taken seriously despite her gender and age. She has also had to adjust her macaron recipe to account for the humidity since moving to the Pacific Northwest.
Beckman’s work is about flavor, fun, and whimsy. She loves to include items that bring joy and maybe even some nostalgia to guests — like snowballs or Creamsicles. Dessert is a celebration, she says.
Junko Mine has a curiosity streak a mile wide. Equal parts experimental scientist and creative artist, Mine works at Café Juanita in Kirkland, and her relentless pursuit of pastry innovation has earned her recognition by the James Beard Foundation (2016 Outstanding Pastry Chef U.S. semifinalist) and Star Chefs (2015 Rising Star Pastry Chef).
As a young girl growing up in Japan, Mine remembers playing at baking — throwing ingredients into a pan to make a “cake” — but never considered becoming a pastry chef. Mine moved to the Seattle area a couple of years after high school to study English in an ESL program, then transferred to Lake Washington Technical College, where she earned a degree from the administrative studies department. After returning briefly to Japan, Mine found she missed living in the United States and ended up studying psychology in San Diego. But ultimately, she decided she did not want to spend her life consulting with patients.
“My passion was always art,” said Mine, who took baking courses while finishing a graphic design degree. One day, a classmate brought her a chocolate truffle sample and invited Mine to try a pastry class with him. She remembers being mesmerized by the sugar work demonstrated by the instructor that day and signed up for the one-year baking program.
At the beginning, Mine only enjoyed the dessert aspect of pastry and considered bread boring. She baked for a yacht club in San Diego as well as the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, where she learned organizational and planning skills from her coworker.
“I enjoyed life in California,” said Mine, but the gaudy gold and silver creations weren’t really her style. “I am inspired by nature. I like natural, organic, local ingredients. It was time for me to move back to Seattle.”
Mine made the move without first securing a job, so she stayed with a friend until she could get on her feet. That friend happened to be delivering pottery to a restaurant client and invited Mine along. That restaurant happened to be the prestigious Willows Inn on Lummi Island. Though the restaurant was in the middle of its annual winter hibernation, the chef invited Mine to come back and “try it out” to see if the restaurant style and island life were a good fit. When service began again in March and Mine still hadn’t heard back from the chef about her “tryout,” she decided to take matters into her own hands and simply showed up ready to work. A dinner position wasn’t open at the time, but
Mine was so impressed with the commitment to locally foraged seasonal ingredients that she took a job downstairs working for the café and room service.
“Chef would come to work carrying a basket of herbs picked on the walk to the restaurant. I’d never seen anything like it. I told Chef, ‘I want to be here to learn from them.’” She stayed a year and a half.
Mine’s interest in bread rose from an encounter with yeast. During the following winter closure at Willows Inn, Mine flew to Japan to study bread-making from a Japanese baker who cultured his own yeast starter by immersing fruit pieces in a glass jar with water. A tightly closed lid forced the ensuing carbon dioxide back into the liquid, somewhat like the Champenoise method of carbonating sparkling wine. The resulting yeast-saturated water is then used for creating a sourdough starter. Depending on the fruit used, the bread might have fruit flavor infused throughout. Mine says strawberries are particularly redolent, but it is easiest to start with apples or raisins.
She tried implementing this unique fermentation style into breads for Willows Inn guest breakfasts, but the process turned out to be too arduous. Instead of giving up on the method, Mine left her position at Willows Inn.
“Chef would come to work carrying a basket of herbs picked on the walk to the restaurant. I’d never seen anything like it.”
“I wanted to use my technique,” she said, so she threw herself into more yeast research by contacting a scientist in Seattle who was part of a group isolating and characterizing yeast strains for use in human DNA studies.
At first the scientist was skeptical of this curious baker, but offered her a tour anyway. As Mine watched yeasts from Ethiopian honey wine “mate” with Japanese sake, she was mesmerized by the visual result, exclaiming to her scientific host how beautiful and art-like it was. So taken was Mine with the science aspects of yeast, that she considered a career change into the field, but after a quarter of biology and chemistry classes, she set that idea aside.
“My scientist friend told me that (learning the science) would be like baking a cupcake — get all the mis en place ready and then mix it all up. But, it was nothing like baking cupcakes!” she laughs. Her grades were admittedly OK, but she was missing too large
of a background foundation. “I decided
not to switch careers.”
Shortly after that, Mine answered a job posting by Chef Holly Smith at Café Juanita. This was during the spring of 2015, when the old building was undergoing a long overdue remodel and Café Juanita was serving food out of its pop-up restaurant at Lark in Seattle. Chef Smith asked Mine to prepare a bread, a plated dessert, and a cake as part of her interview.
Some diners visit Café Juanita specifically for its famous bread service full of house-baked focaccia and those addictive, crispy cheese-laced crackers. Mine maintains the classic recipes for those favorites, but she has added some of her special “hearth” breads to the aperitivi menu. Inspired by nature, Mine is also constantly experimenting with new and unusual flavors for desserts. Milk chocolate mousse, huckleberry leaves, and Douglas fir gelato made the cut. Sunchoke ice cream with dark chocolate chips did not. What will this deeply creative/slightly mad scientist come up with next? Better make reservations to find out.
Purple Café and Wine Bar
When some people make a career change, they really go for it. Amelia Franada, pastry chef for Heavy Restaurant Group (Purple Café, Lot No. 3, The Commons, Thackeray, Barrio), left her home island of Oahu to study computer technology in California, and then applied her skills as a semiconductor test technician and diffusion process engineer. But that was boring. So she moved north and got a degree in culinary arts from the Art Institute of Seattle. After a couple of years on the line at various Seattle restaurants, Franada developed an allergy to seafood — out of the frying pan, and into the oven she went.
Franada studied pastry under Artis Kalsons, executive pastry chef at The Fairmont Seattle. “I liked it right away because it is very creative,” said Franada, who originally wanted to study graphic design. Before coming to Purple, Franada owned her own business called Sweet Teeth Bakery, but after the birth of her daughter, she needed something more predictable.
In addition to the restaurant group’s main locations, Franada also manages dessert prep for catering and the group’s event space Cast Iron Studio in Bellevue. The company’s bakery in Woodinville handles the bread items. “I just do everything sweet,” said Franada. Her favorite items to work on are wedding cakes — especially the intricate piping design. Labor-intensive macaron and cake-pop orders garner a collective groan in the pastry kitchen.
“I just do everything sweet.”
Franada’s biggest job is figuring out ways to cross-utilize ingredients to decrease waste. Translated, that means leftover apples or custard from a catering order may be transformed into a dessert special in one of the restaurants. At home Franada doesn’t do much baking because, by that point, she says she’s over it. However, for her Star Wars-fan-daughter’s fifth birthday, Franada pulled out all the stops for a one-of-a-kind Storm Trooper cake.
Kitanda’s Brazilian Cheese Bread (Paõ de Queijo)
When it comes to pastry, France gets a lion’s share of glory, and rightly so (hello, croissants). But Latin America has its own delicious twists on pastry. Like cheese bread — little rolls that utilize native yuca root, also known as cassava or tapioca and naturally gluten-free. At Kitanda Espresso (locations in Kirkland and Redmond), they serve the Brazilian version of cheese bread called paõ de queijo. The lightly crusty exterior gives way to a chewy, melt-in-your-mouth interior. Cheese bread and coffee go together like, well, breakfast with cheese bread and coffee. Though paõ de queijo are traditionally consumed plain, Kitanda also serves them as sandwiches, stuffing them with things like cream cheese, guava and mozzarella, or bacon and egg.
Want to bake some yourself? Northwest food blogger Layla Pujol offers a recipe for her Ecuadorian version, called pan de yuca, here.