Like Rachel Yang and her husband Seif Chirchi dug out of the restaurant shutdown in 2020 and started making desserts again. Things were still too precarious for the couple to hire back a proper pastry department at their restaurants, Revel and Joule.
The early-morning arrival brought back memories of when the couple opened Joule in 2007, when Yang also handled the pastries. It was just her, by herself, at the original location on 45th Street, making gingerbread cake and “joule box” semifreddo desserts.
“It brought me back to a place where it was really nice and peaceful,” she says. Unlike the many challenges of running a restaurant during a pandemic, making dessert was fun. Along the way, Yang says, “I fell in love with the whole cake idea.” Specifically, treating that particular candy as a recurring form of happiness, not something you only eat on your birthday.
Meanwhile, across town and a year later, Charlie Garrison started making cookies. It was a bit of a departure from his regular programming as co-owner of Lady Jay’s, a barbecue restaurant and meat shop that smokes everything from pork belly to delmonico steaks. On Sunday mornings, Garrison’s biscuits and gravy became a staple of customers shopping the West Seattle Farmers Market outside Lady Jay’s doors.
“And then I was like, ‘I can make some muffins,'” Garrison recalls. “Really big muffins. From there, the baking of oversized goods escalated.
This fall, Seattle welcomes two of the best bakery projects it’s seen in a while. Both come courtesy of longtime chefs who do the buttery kind of culinary cross-training. Each of them started as a kind of outlet. Yang and Garrison’s culinary chops rest mostly on the savory side, which apparently allows them to approach desserts from a different perspective than someone who has spent their careers perfecting caneles and pain au chocolat.
At the end of the summer, probably in September, Yang will open the Paper Cake Shop at 4106 Stone Way N in Wallingford. Her partner Gabby Park joined her from the famed Saint Bread bakery, but they met at Yang’s former restaurant, Trove. Park processed pastries in a stylized Korean barbecue restaurant, even operating a soft drink truck physically built into the restaurant’s entrance.
No fancy layer cakes. Paper Cake is exclusively the domain of tin cakes – the sturdy hero of children’s birthday parties and Costco bakery orders. But in the hands of these two chefs, they become two-layered melodies of Asian flavors and Western staples. Park can combine vanilla cake with lemongrass and lychee. Not to mention loads of raspberry buttercream, its bright pink surface a canvas for whole and crumbled Froot Loops and dots of blackberry jam. Other cakes include ingredients like ube mocha, doenjang maple crumble, unapologetic whimsy, bright colors, miso curd, and chocolate sour cream frosting.
Growing up Korean-American, Park has absorbed a dessert philosophy that avoids sugar overload. “There’s a joke in the Asian community — the highest compliment you can get is when someone says, ‘It’s not too sweet.'” She designs her cakes accordingly, thinking about factors like salt and acid as well as sweetness and texture.
The cake can be the one sweet thing you won’t find at Lady Jay’s on a Sunday morning. Charlie Garrison’s cookie and muffin coating has turned into an amazing weekly buffet of baked goods for big personalities. People line up outside the meat restaurant’s entrance to buy shokupan doughnuts, giant cookies, lemon loaf, pork belly pudding and an assortment of Rice Krispiestreats, including one made entirely of potato chips. The cookies now come topped with white cheddar or topped with marmalade.
Bakers with a more classical education might prefer the French tradition to offering playful stone fantasies. “I come from the grandma side of things,” says Garrison of the delicious nostalgia of her confections. The spread is impressive; as well as his willingness to arrive at 2:45 a.m. on a Sunday and prepare roughly 400 delicacies in the barbecue restaurant’s kitchen. Garrison’s experience with meat makes him averse to roasting anything the day before. “It doesn’t get any better than taking it off the smoker, giving it a good rest and slicing it fresh.” Cookies are much the same for him.
Sometime around the second week of September, Garrison’s weekly pastry rush will get its own shop. Little Jay’s Café and Bakery in South Park’s Cloverdale Shopping Park will offer a daily dose of rice crispies, blondie bars and cookies. Not to mention breakfast and lunch sandwiches (presumably meat-heavy from Lady Jaye) and machine-made coffee from Mavam Espresso, the business park’s neighbor.
If Yang’s position as savory chef helped her find art in the humble sheet cake, Garrison’s background in meat cooking informs his opinion of which pastries deserve our respect. “I try to embrace things that we can claim as real American cuisine,” he says. “I will never make croissants – even though I love croissants.”