Blogger of the Month: Anita Chu of Dessert First Girl
With a penchant for personable, dessert-orientated recipes, Pastrygirl, a.k.a. Anita Chu, has sweetly and steadily made a name for herself in today’s dessert world. With a scientific background in computer studies, Chu took a leap of faith and pursued her more palatable passions with success. Despite already having two published cookbooks tucked under her apron (see one and two), a successful, well-trafficked blog and recently getting married, Chu is taking no breaks and is instead getting ready to publish her third book.
As a blogger who exclusively makes desserts and pastries, do you ever cook anything on the savory side?
I can cook, but my husband has taken over most of the cooking duties. I used to do more cooking, but he has started to take a real interest in [it]. Luckily for me, he is pretty adventurous and does a lot of his own research by looking on the internet and in cookbooks. It works out well because we end up being taste-testers for each other. However, my husband has no interest in blogging, and for my blog, I may Instagram or informally show [what I do]. I have thought about featuring my husband’s recipes–an odd thought because my identity is so tied to desserts. When I first created my blog, I never thought of the future implications, but I think it would be kind of funny to put non-dessert recipes on there. However, in the end, I wouldn’t put anything [like that] on the site because it would be confusing for my readers.
You’re a native of the Bay Area. What are your top three favorite local restaurants?
Gary Danko: It really does have the best service, and it holds a special place in my heart because that’s where my husband proposed to me. What I really appreciate is that it has consistently high standards for food and service. For example, if you go there more than once, they will remember you and ensure that all aspects are special.
Gitane: What I really like about Gitane is that it has a really fabulous design. It is so unique, eclectic, and also has this type of secret den ambiance. I love how they decorate the place and it complements their unique cuisine. It has an intriguing mix of several types of cultures–a little bit of Portuguese, Moroccan, and French with the best of everything. It’s a nice little hideaway that I like to recommend to friends who are visiting from out of town.
Izakaya Sozai: Izakaya took me a few tries, but once I finally made it in, I really enjoyed it. The line out the door is definitely a deterrent, but it is understandable why there is such a crowd. The menu has perfect rainy-day comfort food.
Being trained professionally as a baker and having worked in a bakery, what would you say are the top three most useful items for the amateur baker?
Digital Scale: I am a big proponent of measuring with weight and not volume. For my blog, I am currently in the process of converting all recipes to metrics. Using metrics gives a baker a lot more control over quantity and will yield more consistent results.
Stand Mixer: It really does make things so much easier.
Food Processor: Surprisingly, I almost use it more than I do my stand mixer. The great part about it is that it is useful for all sorts of things, not just baking. I wouldn’t be able to live without my food processor! One piece of advice is that if you’re able to splurge, do, and make sure not to get the tiny cheaper ones–get one that is at least nine cups. In the end, it’s worth it because you can put dough in there, and mix large amounts of ingredients.
As an alumnus of University of California, Berkeley, how do you feel about the Chez Panisse Foundation and their Berkeley-based program focusing on the Edible Schoolyard and School Lunch Reform? Do you think that eating healthfully is a matter of income, or can anyone make the right choices easily?
Even if I weren’t a food blogger, it’s very hard to get away from this unique food culture in the Bay Area. We are extremely steeped in the consciousness of eating healthfully. There is this main road by our place (Millbrae) [that] my husband and I have coined “Fast Food Lane” because literally every fast food restaurant is on that one street. Fortunately, I am proud of the fact that I haven’t eaten there at all yet. Even when my husband and I come back from a long day and are tired, we still have not succumbed to Fast Food Lane.
When I was young and in the suburbs, I would eat fast food and I remember thinking, “I could never live without eating french fries.” But when I went to college and started learning about food, I just stopped. It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop eating fast food–it occurred naturally. My eating habits have slowly changed and I’ve never looked back. Being around this plethora of really great choices definitely makes it easier for people to eat healthfully, or at least make deliberate choices. Tying it back to what I do, yes, I make desserts, but when I make dessert, part of my goal is to make something really delicious. This way, when I eat it, it’s enjoyable on all levels. To be frank, I have very little interest in eating crappy desserts. I don’t want to waste my calories or effort eating crappy desserts because it’s not worth my time. I do enjoy baking and sweets, but I feel like there’s always room for things that are made very well, and a lot of room to make good choices. In the Bay Area, there are a lot of local food artisans (CSA’s, jam makers, confectioners) that are trying to focus on using locally-made, organic, seasonal items and rediscovering old methods.
What’s interesting is that a lot of food bloggers often just go to Farmer’s Markets, and not necessarily the pricier ones (such as the one at the Ferry Building). In the Bay Area, there are a lot of local markets that are not as expensive but hold to the same standard. The difference between using a CSA and going to a Farmer’s Market is that you have a more direct encounter with the growers and the food. One of the best parts of the Market is to take advantage of the easy access to these people who make [and] grow the food. For example, I can ask the grower “What is your best item?” or “What can feed me for a week?” and that may yield better results than a CSA. Here, a lot of the bloggers know the producers and can talk to them directly. It’s all part of being mindful. There are definitely many ways to be mindful about what you’re eating, while still eating smart and within your budget.
Speaking of desserts, after making dozens of cookies and even writing a book about them, what would you say is your favorite cookie?
Definitely the Linzer Cookie because it’s so versatile. My original recipe used almonds, but you can use it with any kind of nut and the filling can be anything. It’s a very elegant alternative. For cookies, you can make either a big ‘ol chunky chocolate cookie, or a Linzer. In addition, my mom likes it because it’s not too sweet, which definitely makes the case for the Linzer Cookie, ‘cause as they say, “Momma knows best!”
To get your hands dirty with Pastrygirl, visit her blog and dive in!
Photo provided by Anita Chu.