We met Andrew earlier this year during our first visit to Chau Veggie Express and Satori Factory, the sister company that shares its kitchen. Located on an unassuming stretch on Victoria Drive, Vancouver, this eatery and café serve some of the tastiest, most flavourful vegan and vegetarian cuisine we have found in the city. Andrew is the pastry chef for both establishments, where he creates inventive desserts and snacks, most of which are made from entirely plant-based ingredients. He has even created his own chrysanthemum honey, which is as delicious as it sounds, and doesn’t come from a beehive. We had the chance to sit down with this stylish pastry chef at Satori Factory to find out more about his passion for pastry, and journey into plant-based baking.
How did you come to be a pastry chef?
I went to culinary school specifically for pastry, but took the savoury courses and liked them so much that I almost just continued down that path. During the pastry program, I realized that I totally love making pastry – even though I’m not that into sweets myself. I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing something that is technically difficult, and then having someone take it, and have it put a smile on their face as they enjoy it.
I went to pastry school when I turned 30, and it seems like since then, everything has been going so smoothly and in such a great direction. I couldn’t think of a better path than I’ve been on. Things are taking off for me.
What does food mean to you?
For me, it’s about sharing love through food. I watched my mom do it all her life. She cooked all these Vietnamese dishes for us. Even if she wasn’t cooking, I grew up in Chinatown and there were always baked goods around, coconut buns and egg tarts and things like that.
Where were you working before you started at Chau and Satori?
After I finished the culinary program, graduating from pastry with honours. I was offered a job at one of the top Italian restaurants in Kitsilano, La Quercia. I worked for them for a year, which was amazing. They let me do whatever I wanted and my pastry was well received by the clientele. I left, even though things were going well, because I needed a mentor and exposure to different types of pastry. So I left and got hired at Cadeaux Bakery, a French bakery in Gastown. There was a lot of opportunity to really practice there. The owners made a lot celebration cakes with fondant and butter cream, there were croissants, Danishes and cookies in the storefront, and there were wholesale orders. It was a good time for me to figure out what I wanted to do next, while reviewing and practicing all these different techniques and styles of baking. I’ve been lucky - everywhere I’ve been so far has felt like a family.
How did you get into vegan baking at Satori Factory?
The whole vegan/vegetarian thing had never crossed my mind. I didn’t have anyone vegan/vegetarian in my life. Maria, the owner here, was my best childhood friend. I hadn’t spoken with her in about 18 years, and then out of nowhere we found each other on facebook. She saw all my pictures of the pastries and desserts that I was posting and got in touch with me. She told me she owned this little place on Victoria, [Chau Veggie Express], and that we should catch up. She said she loved what I was doing, and that she had this little place next door called Satori Factory, and didn’t have anyone doing the pastry for her. She asked me if I wanted to join the team. I felt like I had learned everything that I could at Cadeaux. However, I thought my next step would be to move outside of the city, to somewhere like Montreal where the baking is amazing. A few months later I contacted her again and said let’s do it. I saw it as a good opportunity to start over and do whatever I want to do with complete and total freedom. I started this past November.
All the vegan clients would come in from Chau and would ask if all my baking was vegan. I would say no, and they would say that’s too bad, it all looks amazing. After a small amount of that, I started feeling guilty. Initially I didn’t know what to do, baking without eggs, butter or milk. Maria said there was no pressure, and I didn’t have to, but I decided to do something. The first thing I did was a flop – I made a chai brownie, but it didn’t work. The texture was really off, but Maria said, just serve it and get reactions from people. So, I served it, and people liked it. I think chefs are always more critical of the food they put out.
How do you create original vegan pastry recipes?
Sometimes I’ll take a classic recipe that I know, and then I’ll modify it to something that I want it to be. I’ll start with an idea and see how other people have done it. I use the theory of pastry and adjust things to make them what I want them to be. That process is fun for me. Finding out what could work and what I can add. It’s a lot of work, and I always get nervous when I first put something out. From that chai brownie, which I thought was a flop, putting a smile on someone’s face motivated me. It made me think, I want to feed these people [vegans] – they seem really deprived; nobody is cooking for them. I’m going to make it my mission to feed them and recreate things based on what I know and what things should taste like or things that they probably miss or have never experienced before. I love it, and it’s a challenge. The challenge of pastry itself is hard, but trying to create your own recipes and trying to imitate flavours and textures is even harder. It has been really fun, and I love everything that’s happening. The feedback has been so great and the people have been so appreciative.
Are people surprised when they find out your baking is vegan?
We just did an event for the Miss Universe Canada delegates at The Imperial a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t supposed to be a vegan/vegetarian menu. On the Chau side, they did meat dishes and had a few vegetarian options. We just decided that my whole menu was going to be vegan. Part of the excitement of what I do is wondering if people are going to notice. So, we did all these vegan desserts and people just thought it was amazing. Just changing what people think is part of why I’m enjoying what I’m doing. A lot of people, especially other chefs and bakers, have this stigma that it’s subpar. It’s my goal to prove them wrong. If you put in the energy and effort, sometimes it can be even better than traditional baking.
If you could make anything vegan, what would it be?
I’ve tried a few attempts at vegan egg tarts, but haven’t gotten them right yet.
What are your future food aspirations?
Initially I wanted to have my own business with my own stamp on things. I feel like this is the direction it’s going in right now. We’re going to knock the walls down and combine Chau and Satori, with my own kitchen in the back. I might eventually open up my own shop. I feel like I’ve made really good decisions along the way, and everything has led me to where I am now.
Do you incorporate any environmental considerations into your food?
One of the reasons I wanted to move towards more vegan cooking is that it has less of an impact on the environment.
Tell us about your style
I’ve always been interested in trying to have a style, and making an effort. It has taken me a long time to figure out my style – a lot of experimentation and not knowing who I was and what I wanted in life. After high school I went to UBC for a couple years and then dropped out because I didn’t want to spend more money on education before knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I left and took a couple online courses. I ended up in Korea for 4-5 years to pursue a music career. I auditioned in Vancouver for a boy band in Korea. I was practicing with a boy band, but never released anything. I jumped around from boy band, to duo to solo over a few years. Because I wasn’t releasing an album, I did a lot of voice work, teaching English, television commercials. I went in so many different directions, and my style went in so many different directions. When I got back, I started to get a little older and my style changed again. I don’t really know how I pick things, but I know what I like and I know what I don’t like. I try to be comfortable and feel like I’m looking good.
To me, my style feels simple and basic, but it’s my definition of simple and basic. I always try to have something on me that is fluorescent yellow. I have some paper cranes tattooed on my arm – I got this [arm sleeve tattoo] last summer. It took me a really long time to find an artist to do it for me. I sat on the idea for over 6 years. It started with the idea for paper cranes, and evolved from there. Typically I wear polos or tees, or occasionally button-down shirts. I just like being really casual and comfortable, but without looking like everybody else.
For the record, Two Birds Apparel is also a fan of origami birds.