By Brett Davis

It is a hard-hearted person who does not appreciate the artistry, delight, and down-right deliciousness of a beautifully crafted cake or pastry.

This is what Bakes Saigon Head Chef Sara Wu, a Chinese native, and her international team of bakers and pastry chefs turn out and display at Bakes’ flagship store in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 3. In fact, the elegant decor, tasteful lighting and display design make the space seem like more of a temple to pastries.

The creative team includes members from Vietnam, the US and France, but Wu said despite these different backgrounds all share the similar goal of creating products using local ingredients combined with French cooking techniques.

“We believe that pastry is the kind of thing that can make people feel love and be loved,” she said.

It is a creative process that begins with Wu and the others brainstorming based on a particular topic and sharing ideas, before starting to literally sketch out ideas with pencil and paper. On occasion, for more intricate designs, she will work with a graphic designer. It is only after this that Wu will start to research and draft a recipe to turn the idea into cake form.

For Wu herself, it has been an unusual journey into this refined area of the culinary world. Attending university in Malaysia she graduated with a management degree before going to work for industrial equipment manufacturer Bosch. Not surprisingly, she soon discovered this was not where her passion lay.

Wu said a youthful ability to make quick decisions and sharp turns in life helped her change course. “When we are young, we are full of interesting ambitions for everything.”

With the decision taken, she enrolled in the Malaysian outpost of the Cordon Bleu Culinary Art Academie for her formal training. Needless to say, she was captivated.

“The best experience at Le Cordon Bleu is to see chefs making such beautiful cakes just in front of you and the cooking skills that you have never seen before,” Wu said, “the feeling is like you’re enjoying a show.”

However, that management degree has not gone to waste, as Wu describes her typical day as involving all manner of administrative tasks including checking on orders and deliveries, planning sessions with her sous-chef, meetings with the store manager and sales team as well as the requisite paperwork.

Despite all these tasks, Wu said her team was always her first priority. Many of her young Vietnamese bakers come to the company from La Boulangerie Francoise, an NGO program that trains vulnerable young people to become pastry chefs.

“In the morning, the first thing I do is greeting to my team and ask them if they feel good and talk with them, most of the time I feel they are like part of my family,” Wu said. “I like to work with the girls in the production line, training them and seeing how we can improve ourselves together, it always makes me feel satisfied.” [C]

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