Walk through the glass door of b. Patisserie and into a bustling cafe where the sound of whisks and the smell of butter blend into the everyday chatter of customers. The shop is one of San Francisco’s top bakeries offering mouthwatering croissants, cookies and, their most famous pastry, the Kouign Amann. The first thing you see when you walk inside are rows of homemade pastries resting behind crystal clear glass. And just beyond the pastries, you can see where the magic happens.
“[An open kitchen] makes the atmosphere more fun,” explains chef and co-owner, Belinda Leong. “There’s a lot of detail and time that goes into pastries and I think it’s good to expose that to people for them to see.”
The first time I visited the shop, I stopped at the door for a moment and soaked in the energy before stepping into it. The design of the bakery is wide open so that pretty glass cases are the only thing that block the customers from being right inside the kitchen with Chef Leong herself. As a customer, you feel involved in the process. While enjoying a latte or biting into a fresh flaky banana bread chocolate croissant, you can see Chef Leong bustling away. stirring batter and combining ingredients.
Chef Leong worked at San Fransisco Restaurant Gary Danko for eight years before heading to Europe where she held positions at highly esteemed patisseries in Copenhagen, Barcelona and Paris. After a few years in Europe, Leong made her way back to the Bay Area and worked for Manresa, a two star Michelin Restaurant before finally taking the plunge an opening her own pastry shop, b.Patisserie with her partner, Michel Suas.
Suas is also a highly respected pastry chef in the industry. He is the author of Advanced Bread & Pastry and founder of the San Fransisco Baking Institute. In 2005, Belinda took a class at the institute where she unknowingly met her future business partner.
“I would go to him from time to time and just ask him stuff, and he helped a lot of bakeries around the country to set up. And so when I wanted to open a bakery, I approached him and we became business partners,” Belinda said.
Suas has helped open many bakeries around the country and is well-versed in the business side, as well as the creative side, of pastry production.
“He brings his skills and I bring mine, it’s a great partnership of our experience. For him it’s like forty years of experience and for me, it’s almost forty years [as well],” Leong tells me.
Leong and Suas strive to make b.Patisserie a high class, but approachable bakery. While working in Paris, Leong noticed that some of the best bakeries felt stiff, or unwelcoming. They were fancy and served great pastries, but sometimes could be intimidating to the average person. When opening her own bakery, Leong wanted to make sure that the shop was warm and welcoming without sacrificing pastry quality.
“I think [the best part about owning a bakery is] creating pastries and baked goods and watching people enjoy them and come all the time. Especially because it’s open kitchen so we can see the regulars come in," she says, smiling.
Leong creates all of the recipes for the bakery and then executes them with her team. A lot of her staff have been at the bakery since the beginning and have learned Leong’s style and preferences, working with her to create some of the best pastries in the country. When asked about where she gets the inspiration for the flavors and recipes.
“It depends, it just depends how I feel. It depends on my mood. Like today I might be able to write something down and draw it out. I start on paper, I draw it out and give the composition to my staff and they put it together," Leong says, her eyes lighting up just thinking about the possibilities out there. "It’s in my mind and I draw it out for them to make it.”
All of the bakers are well equipped with knowledge on composition, flavor and pastry experience. While Young drives the creative production, her team is an integral part in making each recipe perfect and bringing new ideas to the discussions.
“Inspiration can be anything. You could be walking down the street and then see a flavor, or even a color, you know it just happens,” Leong explains.
One of the pastries I sampled that day was the Kouign Amann with Strawberry Guava filling. It was crispy on the outside, buttery and flaky on the inside and filled with a sweet and fresh strawberry guava jam.
“Strawberry guava, oh my god, you know I just thought of it because of Caprisuns!” Smiles Leong. “Those flavors are like, very approachable, people remember it. It’s a childhood favorite. I like things that you can relate to.”
Leong’s skill to craft the perfect flavor combinations and pastry composition is fueled by desire to serve the best to customers. However, her personal favorite item they offer is the granola.
“One of my proudest items to make that I’ve created is the granola and the chocolate chip cookie. The granola is like a party in your mouth of textures, a whole combination of things. It’s different,” she says.
Neither Leong nor Suas have a huge sweet tooth. In fact, Leong says that she doesn’t eat anything in the bakery except the granola and bites of pastries to sample them and make sure the recipe is perfect. Their hard work and dedication go towards making pastries and desserts for the people of San Fransisco.