When you ask a San Francisco pastry chef what inspires them, it's pretty common to hear an authentic if a little tired ode to nature and seasonal produce. So there was a bit of surprise on my part when, having been asked the same question, San Francisco pastry chef Yigit Pura launched into a story about sitting at the hairdresser's.
"I was thinking about Tesla [the Bay Area company that's making innovations in the world of electric cars]. And I asked my hairdresser, 'What does electricity taste like?'" Pura laughs. "My hairdresser says, 'I don't know!' So then I sat there, pairing flavors." Thus the Tesla Tart was born. "I wanted to represent the electric car by having the flavors go in a circuit in your mouth. Yuzu is strong, floral but acidic and hits the back of your palate. The flavor moves to Meyer lemon then to sweet but fruity passion fruit at the front of your tongue."
Pura's sweets are also inspired by people, places, and emotions, though all incarnated in classic French pastry design. This intersection is the focus of his first patisserie, Tout Sweet, which opened in Union Square on September 8th.
The journey to Tout Sweet has been over ten years in the making. You could say it started when Pura became the Pastry Sous Chef at Daniel in New York City. He realized he was "married to sugar", even getting a tattoo of the chemical formula for sucrose—a move which some of his own sous-chefs have now adopted. It was there that he began to dream about opening his own bakery, somewhere that would do modern versions of classic French pastry.
"My chefs were French and they said that people in the U.S. didn't get modern pastry. But I didn't see why because good food is good food." A few years later the judges of Top Chef: Just Desserts agreed with his creations, awarding him the grand prize as winner of the show's first season.
After his win, Pura partnered with MeMe Pederson and Janet Griggs to open a patisserie. Then the Macy's department store in San Francisco's Union Square came calling, though he wasn't sure that it would be the right fit. "At first I wrinkled my nose at the idea. But then I had a flashback to being little with my dad in Union Square at Christmastime. To have a store overlooking Union Square? That's really amazing."
Looking through Tout Sweet's wall of windows onto the park, you have to agree. But it's not just the lovely view—for a heavily trafficked area, Union Square is sadly lacking in good places to sit down for coffee and a snack. Tout Sweet provides a welcome option, for tourists and San Franciscans working downtown alike. The interior of the patisserie makes the space totally distinct from the racks of clothes waiting just meters away. Pink and white accents and an assortment of glass cloche-covered sweets make it a friendly, child-like space; it's inspired by Pura's favorite book The Little Prince.
Of course then there are the sweets, which range from delicate, sugar-coated Russian Tea cookies to full scale, architecturally impressive cakes meant for the birthday party circuit. The plan is to expand the menu to include wine and beer as well as savory items. Click through the slideshow to see the pastries, cakes, cookies, and more.