There's something about driving to south county that piques my interest. Going beyond the usual driving radius with hopes of stumbling upon a local spot is always motivating. I've been fortunate as of late, making the acquaintance of a few talented women in the kitchen. This week kicks off with cookbook author and local baker Lei Shishak. Situated in the busiest part of downtown San Clemente, her bake shop sweetens the neighborhood.
Where does the bakery name come from?
I loved the word "blossom", as it stood for growth, as well as had beautiful imagery. I figured I needed something to imply that it was a bakery, so I decided to put "sugar" in front of it.
Tell us about working at Stonehill Tavern.
Working at Stonehill Tavern was a formidable and awesome experience for me. I had spent the previous years working at casual restaurants in Los Angeles, so making the move to fine dining was quite a hurdle for me in terms of the types of desserts I was making. I really had to elevate my game. I learned amazing pastry techniques and discipline from Chef Lincoln Carson, the Corporate Pastry Chef of The Mina Group. It was refreshing to work with people who truly loved food and hospitality.
One food you can't live without:
Potato chips, because I crave salt multiple times a day.
Your best recent food find:
Pupusas and chicken soup at El Paraiso Restaurant in Lake Forest.
How is the line of frozen cookie dough progressing?
We are in the final stages of the package design, and hope to begin speaking to vendors by the end of the year.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Chicken fries at Burger King.
What wine are you drinking these days?
Santa Barbara and Temecula reds.
You're making breakfast; what are you having?
Breakfast burrito filled with eggs, turkey sausage, avocado, tomato and sharp cheddar.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Vietnamese food. My all-time favorite place for Vietnamese food is Brodard Restaurant in Garden Grove. Don't be turned off by the line, as it moves pretty quickly. It's a huge restaurant and the food comes out quickly. I love their vermicelli noodles with grilled pork and egg roll. I also really love their banh xeo. It's a pan-fried coconut rice crepe filled with shrimp and pork.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Marinate meat to tenderize and improve flavor.
Favorite meal growing up:
My dad's chicken curry with basmati rice.
How did you select San Clemente as the home for your bake shop?
I love this charming little beach town. It's gorgeous, has perfect weather and, lucky for me, there was a dearth of bakeries in town when I opened in 2010.
Favorite places to eat.
There are so many! East Borough, Brodard, Natraj, Bad to the Bone, In-n-Out, Maestro's, Gen Kai Sushi, etc.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
Nipple cupcakes for a new mom. And yes.
Most undervalued ingredient.
Butter. Not to sound like a broken record, but butter really does make everything taste better. Aside from adding great flavor (in muffins, for example), it contributes to mouth feel (like in ice cream) and adds body to dishes like sauces.
Where was your most recent meal?
Dinner at Dublin 4 Gastropub in Mission Viejo. I had their delicious Reuben sandwich on marbled rye.
Earliest food memory:
Strawberry picking with my mom and brother. We would go in New Jersey, specifically at Sussex County Strawberry Farm, a family-owned farm with the juiciest, plumpest strawberries I've ever had. My mom would use the strawberries to make a berry trifle. The rest we would eat as-is, which to me is the best way.
Sugar Blossom Bake Shop is located at 204 Avenida del Mar, San Clemente, (949) 429-5555; www.sugarblossombakeshop.com.