Our coffeehouse session with Merely Sweets' Diane Yoon continues, with discussions on family and those tasty walflours. Diane also reveals what her alter ego might be up to if she didn't go down the culinary path. The sweet stuff begins in part one, which can be found here. Remember to preheat the oven to 350 degrees for tomorrow's baking lesson.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
Learning to say no and being okay with it. Sometimes, you have to put yourself first.
What would your last meal on Earth be?
My mom's side of the family is from Brazil, and we always have these amazing family Brazilian barbecues. I would have to say my uncle's Brazilian steaks and an assortment of family side dishes, ending with my mom's Korean kim chi stew.
Who's your hero, culinary or otherwise?
In all aspects of my life, I would say my mother is my hero. She has taught me by example, and I am still learning from her. There is almost nothing she can't do! She is an amazing cook, baker, businesswoman, quilter, clothing designer, graphic artist and mom. I have yet to meet anyone with a more positive outlook on life as well. Plus, she has great taste.
Tell us about your food-service-industry background.
I started out with my own cupcake business for a couple of years, and then moved to New York and studied pastry arts at the French Culinary Institute. In New York, I interned at Cake Alchemy.
At what point did working with your brother Robert become a part of the business plan?
The store was actually my brother's idea. If it weren't for him, I am not sure if I would have had the guts to open a shop. He was looking into opening a business, and I guess it was a natural decision that he would support my dream.
How did you decide to showcase cakes and not cupcakes, cookies, etc.?
I love how cakes can look classy and modern, yet fun at the same time. Sugar paste can create so many different kinds of looks and dimensions. Our cupcakes and cookies are displayed in our storefront and are items you can get for yourself or others every day. However, the cakes in our gallery are Merely Cakes By Design and are pre-designed for special events and celebrations.
Are there any restaurants out there that you'd like to try?
I'm curious about the Slapfish truck. [Editor's Note: Yoon is the second On the Line subject to single out the truck.]
Let's set the record straight: What's the difference between a macaron and macaroon? And do patrons get the two confused?
A macaron is a meringue-and-almond-flour-based French cookie. You take two cookies and sandwich them together with a flavored buttercream, ganache or jam. A macaroon is an American coconut meringue cookie. You can tell the difference by their appearance, since the French macaron has a smooth, domed top with a ruffled skirt, while the American macaroon is covered in toasted-coconut flakes. Yes, patrons get the two confused all the time!
Tell us about the walflours.
The walflour is a sweet, brown-sugar walnut cake. I love having one or two with some hot tea at the end of the day. It is actually a family recipe, and therefore extra-special to me.
What dessert would you tell newcomers to Merely Sweets to try first?
I love our chocolate-chip cookies! It's inexpensive and quick and easy to try. Our best-sellers have been our salted-caramel macaron and red-velvet cupcake, so I would say those would be safe, great choices as well.
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What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
In my early twenties, I had plans of being a social worker, but to be honest, I think I would be doing something more creative. Perhaps I would be a special-effects makeup artist for the movies. I dreamed of doing that for a while after watching the first Lord of the Rings.
What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food?
This industry has been extremely rewarding, but I would say don't consider it unless you really love it and are willing to put in the work. Be ready to be mentally and physically exhausted. Baking is definitely a science to me. I am constantly researching, baking, tasting, testing; but once you figure it out, it is extremely exciting and satisfying.
What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
In five years, it'd be amazing if we had a second location opening up and had respect and recognition in this industry. In 10 years, I would like to travel around the world and broaden my culinary knowledge and, of course, eat everything!