Forkers and Weeklings are familiar with Aron Habiger and Ryan Adams, but do you know Ashley Guzman? I first crossed paths with her at a Filipino pop-up by Ryan Carson. But it wasn't until I dined at The North Left that we had our initial exchange. In many kitchens, I noticed a strong female presence in the form of a pastry chef. Left to their own creative devices, they present thoughtful finales to every meal.
In some ways, a pastry chef's responsibilities are tougher than the rest of the kitchen. Often working alone and with a narrow margin of error, I admire the focus and skill they apply to their craft.
Best culinary tip for the home baker: Don't let the recipe control you; you control the recipe. Just because a piece of paper tells you to bake something for 15 minutes, at nine minutes, if it's starting to look burnt, go with your instinct and pull it out.
What kinds of desserts do you like personally? I love ending a meal with fruit sorbets. They're refreshing and light, especially when made with quality fruits that are in season. I also love a good cheese flight for dessert. I've never met a cheese I didn't like.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?): I think it's really weird when guests ask for something that isn't on the menu. If they aren't harassing my servers and I'm able to accommodate them, I will, though. One of the most memorable customer requests was when I was asked to put an engagement ring in a dessert. I immediately got excited and sent them champagne after the dessert was delivered to the table. I probably shouldn't have jumped the gun, though, because I was later told the engagement didn't exactly happen.
Your best recent food find: Pork xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung. I'm just learning about those amazing little Taiwanese soup dumplings, and I feel like I've been cheated my whole life by never having them before. I wake up and go to bed thinking about them.
Most undervalued ingredient: In pastry, salt. In general, lemon.
Tell us about your culinary experience. My culinary experience began at the dinner table with my family. I was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole before I started cooking professionally. I don't think I ever realized how much the culture of food had an effect on my life until then. Cooking has given me an identity and a voice. And while it's given me confidence, it has also humbled me. I'm very early in my career, and have been beyond blessed so far. I guess in a lot of ways, my life is a culinary experience. Everything is centered around food culture.
Favorite meal growing up. My dad's specialty: tinola. It's a Filipino soup made with chicken, ginger and usually, chayote squash. But if that wasn't available, he would use asparagus or spinach. It's clean, simple and still one of my favorite things to eat.
We hear you give the kitchen staff a mystery box challenge from time to time. Could you elaborate on that? I'll put together little "kits" with four to five ingredients that absolutely need to be used as well as prevalent in one dish. The ingredients are usually pretty normal building blocks for a dish, with one "wild card". The wild cards are in the past have included white chocolate or a Rockstar energy drink. They're able to use anything in the kitchen, and they are given as much time as needed.
The ability to cook outside your comfort zone, know your product and have confidence in your technique is a skill that needs to be exercised and separates a cook from a good cook. It also breaks up the monotony of work, and is fun and challenging at the same time. However, I'll never ask someone to do something I'm not willing to do. So one service, they gave Chef Aron and me a mystery box . . .and I won!
What is your beverage of choice? I like $5 shots of whiskey and sparkling wine, usually in a local dive. With that being said, The Remedy is my beverage of choice the morning after. Radical Botanicals at the 4th Street Market in Santa Ana has the most amazing cold-pressed juices that are healthy, hydrating and straight-up addicting.
You're making breakfast; what are you having? Garlic fried rice with longanisa, a poached egg and lots of coffee.
Are there stereotypes that people have about pastry chefs, and are they true? I think in general, chefs and cooks have a certain type of personality. I don't like to speak for anyone else, but I have noticed a tendency in pastry chefs to be territorial about their space and hyper-organized about their mise en place. It's certainly understandable, though. Working next to (and sometimes sharing) stations and storage where fish scales and raw chicken "live", it's important to claim your space and for others to be respectful of it. And vice versa.
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Favorite places to eat. Ohshima, Santouka Ramen, Son of a Gun, Langer's Deli, Swan Oyster Depot, Taco Maria, Mozza, the food court at Seafood City, my mom's house in the Philippines . . .I could go on forever. It really just depends on what I'm craving that day.
Where was your most recent meal? After being tortured by Instagram pictures for far too long, I was finally able to make it to Republique in LA for brunch. It was perfect. I had the kimchi fried rice and smoked salmon tartine.
Your earliest food memory. Most of my early memories, in general, involve food. However, my earliest one is about cooking with my older brother James. I was around five or six, and he was teaching me how to make Top Ramen. As he poured the soup from a small pot into a bowl, he spilled some of the soup over the side and I started laughing at him. I'll never forget him getting annoyed with me (like older siblings do). And with all the wisdom of an 11-year-old, told me to, "take cooking seriously."