From Seattle to New York and back — this Vietnamese American pastry chef is a rising star to watch

Food & Drink

Even after she lost her job at the famous Gramercy Tavern in New York when the coronavirus pandemic , pastry cook shut down the industry last spring, Lauren Tran got excited about her job. The New York media wrote about their Vietnamese-French desserts Madame Vo. Excellent restaurants, including host her pop-ups.

in the East Village, wanted

. Life looked up until she learned from home on Federal Way that her father had to be rushed to the hospital after chest pain.

Tran canceled all of her cake orders, grabbed clothes, and put a bag of pandan leaves in her hand luggage before boarding a flight to Seattle in February to take care of her father.because she had promised to bake her signature Pandan chiffon cake for family and friends who had read about her baking achievements in the Big Apple.)

Lauren Tran, at UPS Waterfall Garden Park in Pioneer Square, grew up in Federal Way and is making a name for herself as a baker in New York. She’s doing bakery pop-ups in Seattle this month. (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times) She was originally only supposed to bake two cakes. But it has grown to be 60 cakes since then, along with hundreds of other desserts as Tran baked around the clock and tried to keep up with a number of orders after friends led them to expand their brand now in Seattle, since her father’s health is improved.

Lauren Tran grew up in UPS Waterfall Garden Park on Pioneer Square in Federal Way and is making a name for herself as a baker in New York. She’s doing bakery pop-ups in Seattle this month.(Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times) Fast Penny Spirits In early April, Tran ran a cake sale in front of

in Interbay, thinking she had made enough cakes and macarons for the sale to take three hours. Their candy sold out within 45 minutes. Tran stayed here to apologize to the later comers. “This was the biggest surprise,” said Tran, who had got up since 3 am at the time of our interview . “Little did I know Seattle was going to hug me like they … I’m just overwhelmed and I’m not sure how to deal with it or wrap my head around all the attention.”

In the past two months, she has gained a huge following through word of mouth with four sold out pop-ups. The young Asian-American crowd in particular was among their most ardent followers, buying sampler boxes of these bright, life-saving macarons, cakes, and Vietnamese tapioca candy accented with coconut and its signature ingredient; the vanilla-scented pandan.

This was a homecoming she did not expect. The 32-year-old Vietnamese-American grew up in Federal Way and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in political science before hopping around various clinical research laboratories for the next three years, telling herself it would improve her resume,until she felt ready the grind of medical school.

The truth was, she stalled and couldn’t muster the courage to tell her parents that she didn’t want to be a doctor, but instead wanted to train to be a pastry chef.

“You’re warming up to the idea,” said Tran laughing.

Tran invested 90 hour working weeks to save money. for a move to New York . She started her days as a barista in downtown Seattle at 5 a.m., then took off her apron at 2 p.m. to rush off her second job at Canlis. She was a waitress at the gourmet establishment, but she always found an excuse to poke her head in the pastry shop to ask umpteen questions. Kyle Johnson, the hospitality director at Canlis, recalled:“It was clear that she had a deep love for anything to do with candy.”

In New York, where Tran graduated from the International Culinary Center’s pastry program in 2019, she was a guest at David Chang’s Momofuku Ko and then Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern, where she attended the Thanksgiving dessert throwdown one afternoon. Food & Wine Magazine recorded this back-off under the heading . “Gramercy Tavern’s closed cake competition is the most intense show that doesn’t exist on television.”

Tran won for their pandan coconut pudding cake with lemongrass whipped cream.

This laid the foundation for the type of candy thatTran wanted to be their calling card - to present Vietnamese desserts and to integrate the tropical flavors of their ancestral homeland into French and American pastries.

All of those colorful tapioca-based desserts and the sweet sticky rice spread out on the counters of Banh Mi Delis are so underrated and so alien to Americans who just bypass them, she said.

Vietnamese desserts, Tran said, are about texture, that chewy, springy bite. She particularly likes pandan, a grassy, ​​vanilla-like Asian plant found in her macarons, dim sum sesame balls, and other candy that she sells as part of a $ 40 sampler box.

How many pastry chefs laid off after the pandemicTran sells her pastries through her Instagram account Banh by Lauren. Banh is Vietnamese for cake.

“The silver lining is that the pandemic pushed me to stand there and make myself vulnerable” and just take risks, she said. “It helped me identify with what I want to do as a pastry chef - highlight Vietnamese desserts and flavors.”

Your aromatic Banh da Lon, a steamed coconut-tapioca cake with alternating layers of pandan and mung bean, has a light, pronounced vanilla taste that is neither sweet nor watery-jello-like, like many versions in Asian supermarkets traded. Yours is sticky and chewy, has a chewing gum-like taste.

But it’s her four-layer pandan chiffon cake with coconut mousse and whipped cream frosting that was talked about in Seattle and New York: almond and tropical flavors.

She might open a bakery in Seattle in the future, but for now, New beckons York. She plans to do at least one more pop-up in the Chinatown International District and bake some cakes for charity. Then she flies back to New York in May, where she’s committed to running some pop-ups. at restaurants.

Bake Sale by Banh by Lauren

Pop-up in the Gift Shop, 674 S. King St. (across from Jade Garden Restaurant), Seattle; Saturday, April 17th, from 1pm to 1pm or until sold out. (You can also pre-order Lauren Trans Cake through her Instagram: where she’s committed torun some pop-ups @banhbylauren)