Recently, our head of kitchen R&D, Meredyth Haas, traveled to Tokyo with Chef Lisa to visit the pastry team at Dandelion Chocolate Japan. Below, she tells us a little about workshopping pastries, and what makes Tokyo so different (and not so different) from home.
At our factory in San Francisco, our pastry menu changes every few weeks. New things come into season, and we love keeping things fresh and working through all the ideas on our back burner (which is a very full back burner). The pastry kitchen at Dandelion Chocolate Japan in Tokyo serves more or less the same menu, but their ingredients and techniques are a little different over there. So this past April, Chef Mai invited Lisa and I to the Tokyo kitchen to spend some time workshopping pastries and updating the menu.
We hopped on a plane with seven new pastry recipes in our pockets and a suitcase filled with canelé molds and aprons. We boarded our 13-hour flight with nervous energy and anticipation.
Tokyo is more than 5,000 miles from San Francisco, but stepping into DCJ for the first time felt a lot like home. The distinct scent of chocolate, sounds of the roaster and winnower, English descriptions of the chocolate making process on the walls, and the same Japanese-made ceramics being used in the café made the space feel familiar. I immediately felt at ease despite not being able to communicate much beyond the occasional smile and awkward head bow. After meeting some of the café and kitchen staff, Lisa and I checked into our nearby Airbnb and prepared for a week of work ahead in the kitchen.
Just as we have two pastry kitchens here in San Francisco (one on Valencia Street and an upcoming one on Alabama Street), DCJ has two pastry kitchens in Tokyo. Lisa and I worked at Honjo, which is their external factory location. There are many, many differences between the DCJ kitchen and ours back in California. Some I noticed right away, like the windows (our kitchen is windowless)! A full gas range (we use induction burners)! A walk-in refrigerator (we only have reach-ins)! A sheeter (machine used to roll large batches of dough and make laminated pastries like croissants)! Upon closer inspection, I noticed their ingredients were also different. They don’t use brown sugar, the egg yolks are a different orange, the butter has a higher water content, and the flour was more pillowy and less dense. Their kitchen had temperature-controlled cabinets to keep chocolate melted or in temper. Their stand mixer was twice the size of ours, enabling them to make enormous batches of marshmallows at once. Their oven fan had six different settings, compared to the simple choice I make every day: On or Off.
It took me a while to learn the flow of production in their kitchen. The team had one pastry assistant on staff who knew some English and was able to translate some for us. Other than that, there were a lot of hand gestures and laughter as we tried to communicate, but we managed. Luckily for me—since the only Japanese phrases I know so far are “I’m lost” and “ramen please”—teaching our new pastry recipes to the Honjo team is largely a visual exercise.
We spent the week workshopping our tiramisu, bourbon caramel tart, almond tea cake, mocha paris-brest, celebration cake, yuzu chocolate cheesecake, and canelé. After five days, Lisa and I spent the weekend in Kyoto, and the Honjo team buckled down, mastering the new recipes. By the next week, they’d mastered each and every one beyond a level of perfection I would have ever anticipated (especially considering we couldn’t even really talk to each other!).
Tokyo is a really exciting place to be a visiting pastry chef. Some of the world’s most well-known pastry shops have branches in Tokyo, including Pierre Hermé, Bubo, Dominique Ansel, Pierre Marcolini, Ladurée, Jean-Paul Hévin, and Janice Wong. It was interesting to see how international brands brought their specific aesthetic to a cosmopolitan city like Tokyo. I ate some really incredible pastries, but I have to admit, it’s the savory food that really blew my mind. I had the best sushi of my life at a 15-course Omakase in Ise, and ate tuna sliced and served to me within hours of being caught at the famous Tsukiji Fish market. I ate fresh uni out of the shell, waited two hours for Michelin-starred ramen (worth it!), had pork katsu cut by a 100-year-old zen master chef, and copious amounts of matcha soft serve. On our weekend, Lisa and I spent the day at a traditional Japanese onsen, relaxing in an outdoor spring overlooking the Kyoto foothills.
It was a surreal experience watching our pastries come to life on the other side of the world. Though ingredients and kitchen equipment and units of measure may differ across countries, the joy of eating delicious food is a universal experience, and it’s a joy to be reminded of that so far from home. Thank you, DCJ!