Sharlena Fong is the co-chef and co-owner of Semi Sweet Bakery downtown. She is known for her knack for the retro, including brownies, lemon bars and her own versions of Pop-Tarts and Ding Dongs, along with lemon blueberry Danish, chocolate croissants, caramel-coconut macarons and peanut butter pretzel cookies.
Fong left a career in finance in 2001, went to culinary school and landed a job as a pastry cook at Eleven Madison Park in New York, followed by a position at Thomas Keller's Per Se. It was while she was helping to test recipes for the opening of the first Bouchon Bakery in New York that she started dreaming about her own bakery.
After moving to Los Angeles as pastry chef at the Nickel Diner, she opened Semi Sweet Bakery with James Gonzalez.
What's coming next on your menu?
I've been playing around with puff pastry. It's such a great base dough that is rarely made in-house. We'll make turnovers, palmiers and savory tarts.
Latest ingredient obsession?
Coconut flour. I hated anything coconut as a child, but after a taste of coconut sorbet at my first job as a pastry cook at Eleven Madison Park in New York, I've loved everything coconut. Coconut flour is so diverse, flavorful and gluten-free.
What restaurant do you find yourself going to again and again?
Sky's Tacos on Pico. My usual is one lobster taco, one shrimp taco and a sorrel lemonade.
The one piece of kitchen equipment you can't live without, other than your knives?
Offset spatulas. I have 15 of them at the bakery.
What was the last cookbook you read, and what inspired you to pick it up?
"Bouchon Bakery." I couldn't wait for this to come out! The two years I spent at Per Se and Bouchon Bakery influenced me greatly. They did an amazing job of putting together a collection of beautiful recipes, techniques and tips while incorporating the company's core beliefs on quality, cleanliness and a sense of urgency.
Semi Sweet Bakery, 105 E. 6th St., Los Angeles, (213) 228-9975, SemiSweetBakery.com.