Reine Bayoc of SweetArt Bakeshop, Part 2

This is part two of Emily Wasserman's Chef's Choice profile of chef Reine Bayoc of SweetArt. To read part one, click here. Part three, a recipe from Bayoc, can be found here.

Bayoc with some of SweetArt's baked treats - Chrissy Wilmes
Chrissy Wilmes
Bayoc with some of SweetArt's baked treats

Did your family cook when you were a child? Yes, my mother was the main cook.

How old were you when you started cooking? I was probably six. I lived in a do-or-die household where it was either cook or starve.

First cooking job? My first cooking job was at Rax. It's like an Arby's roast beef place. I was in high school.

Did you attend culinary school or college? No, I graduated from SLU with a degree in English and French.

What do you eat? I eat a lot of Indian Food and Mexican. My favorite Indian dish is Palak Paneer, and my favorite Mexican food is plantains; the ones I make, and also the ones served at Frontera in Chicago.

What do you cook at home? I have three kids who are very picky eaters, but it's eat or starve. I make food with lots of whole grains, vegetables, tofu and beans. I don't use meat, so I try to make food that is "protein-worthy," like red beans and rice.The kids really like pesto pasta, and I usually serve fruit or salad on the side.

What are your three favorite restaurants in St. Louis (besides your own!)? My three favorite restaurants are Terrene in the Central West End, Farmhaus on Ivanhoe Avenue, not too far away from my restaurant; the food there inspires me, and is unpretentious and delicious. I also like House of India on Delmar.

Your favorite restaurant elsewhere? Milk and Honey in Chicago. I'm in Chicago a lot because my husband has family there, and I have some family there, too. Milk and Honey is a small café that serves lunch and dinner, and they also do baking. They sell their granola in Whole Foods.

Positivity prevails at SweetArt - Chrissy Wilmes
Chrissy Wilmes
Positivity prevails at SweetArt

Your favorite food city? St. Louis! We have a lot to offer, and slowly but surely, things are happening. There is a diversity here that you can't find in other cities. It's rare that in the span of a few blocks, you can find vegetarian, Vietnamese and Indian food.

Favorite recent food find? HiBall: it's a caffeinated drink with B vitamins that is sold at Whole Foods. I apologize that it's not a food, but it's a current obsession.

Most essential ingredient in your kitchen? Plugra butter. It is the only butter I use, and it makes such a difference. I also use a vegan butter called Spectrum, which is an organic shortening.

Five words to describe your food. Humble, exquisite, from-scratch, Southern, memorable.

One food you dislike. Beets. They taste like dirt.

A food you can't live without. A nice, crusty whole-grain bread.

An ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. Anything with preservatives.

Culinarily speaking, St. Louis needs more... Adventurous palates.

Best tip for home cooks. Be easy on yourself. The fact that you're in there cooking is fantastic.

Favorite after-work hangout. My home! In the living room with my three kids, my babies. I try to make it a goal to leave when they get out of school each day.

What's next for you? My husband and I said that we would try this for four years, and we're finishing year three, beginning year four. We want to love it; some days we do, some days we don't. But lots of good things are next; it will be fantastic.

What inspires you? For my baking, memories of my grandmother and food she'd make. In terms of savory lunch items, I've always seen what food was happening and tried to make my own unique interpretation. Meat creations inspire me to make similar food, just with vegetarian and vegan ingredients.

Chefs who inspire you. Joanne Chang, a chef based out of Boston. She owns Flour Bakery. She's the first baker that I said, "I love what she's doing." I'm silently stalking her. She just put out a cookbook, and I bought copies for myself and for the two bakers I work with at SweetArt. Her food is so approachable and exquisite, and she has a simple baking style. People get hoighty-toighty with baking these days: "I can do this with sugar." But at the end of the day, it's not about making sculptures; it's about making simple, delicious and approachable food.

Reine Bayoc of SweetArt Bakeshop, Part 2
Chrissy Wilmes

Favorite cookbooks? Joanne Chang's cookbook, Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Café.

Proudest professional moment? When my kids' classmates see me at school and ask if I brought cupcakes. Obviously they like them, or they never would have asked. We were in the New York Times, and that was great, but I try not to trip off reviews, good or bad.

Favorite music to have in the kitchen. Anything Latin: Afro-Cuban, Poncho Sanchez...something steady. If it's too slow, I'm moving too slow.

What's on your pizza? (Writhes in agony) I'm on a 40-day thing, and I gave up pizza. It has only been 29 days. But when I eat pizza, I like Fontina and goat cheese, spinach, roasted peppers and some sort of green.

What's in your omelet? This might sound weird to some people, but cream cheese, Creole potatoes and a little fresh thyme.

What's the most surprising food you've eaten? I'm such a daredevil, but when I was younger, before I became a vegetarian, it was tripe. I'm not a fan, and it probably propelled me towards vegetarianism.

What's the most difficult lesson you've learned in this business? There are so many. The main one that keeps me out of trouble is listen to your own voice. There are 8,000 people who tell you what you should be doing and give you advice left and right, and most of these people don't even own a restaurant! If something sounds good to me, then I think that it's the right thing to do.

When did you know the chef's life was for you? I still don't know. It's the truth!

What is your favorite item on your bakery menu? In peach season, and because I'm Southern and from Tennessee, we make a peaches and cream pie. The top is sprinkled with Lavender Sugar. It's delicious.

What is your husband's favorite food on the menu? My husband is more of a cake guy, but he eats anything. He loves the Main Event, our chocolate-chunk cookie, and the Elvis Cupcake with peanut butter and banana.

Favorite item from the French Boulangeries? Sandwich de Gruyere and Pain au Chocolat.

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