Food for thought | March 26, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - March 26, 2021

Food for thought

Pastry pop-ups in Palo Alto and chefs Jose Andres and Jesse Cool converse about sustainability

by Elena Kadvany

Whether you've got a taste for social justice or finely made pastries (or both), the Midpeninsula has something for you. A local lecture series brings together a couple of staunch advocates for sustainability in the restaurant industry — Flea St. Cafe's Jesse Cool and chef-philanthropist Jose Andres, founder of World Central Kitchen — on April 6. In Palo Alto, there are new temptations on offer, as Patty Lu, a former Tartine baker, and Nariya Charoensupaya, Vina Enoteca's former pastry chef, are making breads and pastries with flavors that highlight their Asian American heritages.

New on the Palo Alto pastry scene

While John Shelsta's Love for Butter pop-up is on a temporary hiatus, two bakers have stepped in to fill the sweets void: a former Tartine baker and Vina Enoteca's former pastry chef.

Patty Lu, who started her baking career at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, is temporarily overseeing the bread program at Vina Enoteca on Welch Road in Palo Alto (where Shelsta has been baking for the last few months) and making pastries for Tono Coffee Project on Lytton Avenue in Palo Alto, which usually serves Love for Butter baked goods.

Lu was a line cook in San Francisco before delving into baking. She later started the bread program at The Charter Oak Restaurant in St. Helena and worked at Tartine for several years. As head baker at Tartine Seoul, she helped to open the bakery's first location in Korea. For the last few years, she's baked Roy Shvartzapel's famed panettone during the holidays for Panettone From Roy.

Last fall, Lu started her own endeavor: Year of the Snake Foods, a pop-up with items like sesame-scallion focaccia, kimchi and langue de chat, delicate cookies filled with tahini, black sesame or white chocolate. Her creations reflect her Chinese American upbringing in Cupertino, her years of baking naturally leavened bread in the Bay Area and her time in Seoul.

At Tono Coffee, you can find Lu's black sesame bostock — soft, circular brioche topped with a velvety frangipane made from powdered black sesame, which is inspired by Chinese tang yuan (sweet rice flour dumplings filled with black sesame paste) and zhi ma hu, a black sesame soup. She also makes a flaky biscuit studded with lap cheong (Chinese sausage) and garlic chives, among other items.

"For me, incorporating Chinese flavors — I want it to be more mainstream," she said.

She said when she would bring Tartine bread home to her Taiwanese parents, they eschewed the crusty sourdough bread for soft white breads from Chinese bakeries.

"My whole background has been making European pastries and breads," she said. "I want to make stuff that they like to eat."

Lu is also making classic focaccia, sourdough baguettes and other breads for Vina Enoteca's Mercato, which is open Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the restaurant. She hopes to host Year of the Snake Foods pop-ups there as well.

Also in the pastry case at Tono are new sweets made by Nariya Charoensupaya, who runs cottage bakery operation Pastry Cat in Sacramento. Charoensupaya, Vina Enoteca's former pastry chef, previously managed the kitchen team at the Italian restaurant with her husband, who was then the chef de cuisine. She's worked in the Bay Area restaurant and bakery scenes for about a decade, including at Mourad and Le Marais Bakery in San Francisco. Last summer, she decided to branch out on her own and started Pastry Cat.

"My products are a reflection of who I am and what I would like my customers to experience," Charoensupaya said. "I was trained mostly in French pastry techniques, but I love to incorporate Asian influenced/inspired flavors to my products as that is what I love, and what I grew up with."

Charoensupaya is Thai American. She was born in the United States and grew up in Bangkok. She makes sweets like matcha yuzu almond cookies, salted butter caramels infused with genmai (toasted rice) and milk tea tiramisu, plus buckwheat shokupan bread. She developed her own recipe for miso brown butter cookies (which you can find at Tono) and painstakingly adjusted the ratios over and over again to yield a super chewy texture and sweet-savory balance.

"I'm very big on balancing everything — flavor, texture, temperature (when possible), no matter how simple or complex the product may be," Charoensupaya said.

Tono Coffee will be closed from March 24-31, so check out the pastries there in April.

Jose Andres and Jesse Cool

Local restaurateur Jesse Ziff Cool will be moderating a virtual conversation with Jose Andres, famed chef and founder of World Central Kitchen, on April 6.

The event is part of the Peninsula Open Space Trust's Wallace Stegner Lecture series, which features "writers, thinkers and activists who explore important issues related to land, nature and conservation."

Andres — as well as Cool, the owner of Flea St. Cafe in Menlo Park — is a staunch advocate for sustainability in the restaurant industry. His new book, "Vegetables Unleashed," explores cooking with vegetables to reduce food waste and the world's carbon footprint.

World Central Kitchen has for over a decade served meals to people in need and responded in the wake of natural and man-made disasters, including when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the bushfires in Australia and in 2020, the pandemic. Since last March, World Central Kitchen partnered with restaurants to keep them and their employees afloat while serving 36 million meals in more than 400 cities across America.

Cool, who's championed farm-to-table, organic cooking at Flea St. Cafe for four decades, is also a culinary lecturer at the Stanford University Department of Education and uses her home garden and kitchen as a model classroom. Cool spearheaded an effort to revamp the food Stanford Hospital serves employees and patients.

During the coronavirus shutdown, Flea St. Cafe launched "Meals of Gratitude," a program to donate meals to front-line health care workers while keeping the restaurant staff employed. The restaurant has made more than 29,000 meals for front-line health care providers, evacuees from the California wildfires (Flea St. also sent meals to wildfire victims through World Central Kitchen) and vaccination site employees. A year after starting the program, Cool ended Meals of Gratitude last week as the restaurant works to slowly reopen.

Cool is a supporter of the Peninsula Open Space Trust's work to protect local land and farms, and also volunteers with World Central Kitchen. Because of these connections, the Peninsula Open Space Trust asked her to host the conversation with Andrés, she said.

The April 6 talk begins at 7 p.m. For more information and to buy tickets, go to openspacetrust.org.

Email Elena Kadvany at [email protected]

Comments

There are no comments yet for this post

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.


Get the most important local news stories sent straight to your inbox daily.