Paper Bird’s pastry chef Yu-ching Lee bakes signature treats inspired by her time in top Sydney kitchens.
Igrew up a greedy child, so it was almost inevitable that baking would become an interest of sorts. Since my parents were fairly strict about what sweets, if any, were allowed into the household, I worked out early on that if I made something myself, I’d get to eat a lot of it. From a beloved children’s cookbook, I made glacé-cherry-topped cupcakes, gingerbread folk, flapjacks and banana flummery. Chocolate cake and brownies followed, and so did tarts, although I never quite got the hang of shortcrust pastry and developed a terrible tart anxiety.
After I graduated from university, I decided to sign up as an apprentice chef. This was born partially from the frustration of not knowing what I was doing in the home kitchen or why things would sometimes go wrong. Shaking pans in a hot kitchen led to a job in the dessert section where I instantly felt at home.
Despite the rewarding feeling of doing something very creative and technical, working in a restaurant dessert kitchen had its downsides. I found I could follow instructions and put 20 different elements on a plate, but I had no idea what a crémeux was, nor could I confidently construct a simple tart. Making the eventual switch to bakery work gave me a new appreciation for simple things done well and evoked a sense of nostalgia. (It also helped me conquer that dreaded tart anxiety.)
Many kitchen years later (they’re like dog years, thanks to the sheer number of hours per week), I still have no idea what a crémeux is, but have learnt other new things. Time spent in the kitchen at Marque cemented the idea that simplicity can still be surprising, with unexpected but complementary ingredients creating layers of flavour. At Brickfields, I learnt to prize flavour over presentation; brown food can be wonderful – if something is drab on the outside, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a disco-flavoured party on the inside. And it was at Boon Café, under the guidance of Palisa Anderson, that I rediscovered my love for the Asian ingredients I’d rejected as a kid in an effort to fit in.
Laurie Colwin once said that the world is divided into those who are waiting for dessert and those who produce it. If you’re one of the former, you can find most of these treats and more, produced on weekends at Paper Bird Restaurant in Potts Point. If you’re one of the latter, dive in.
Kaya madeleines with chocolate sauce