Meet the power duo behind Birdsong’s Sweet Treat Trio box: Chef Yesenia Castanon and Chef Zoee Wong. Birdsong is a 1 Michelin starred restaurant in San Francisco, offering a multi-course dining experience. Their heritage cuisine features the best of the season.
During the pandemic, Birdsong shifted their indoor dining experience to a more takeout-friendly menu. And it has been SUCH A HIT! Think picnic baskets with fried chicken, pies, and Nashville-style fried chicken sandwiches with the infamous Claude the Claw.
Picnic baskets made their first appearance during Valentine’s Day weekend. The menu boasts a generous serving of fried chicken with sides. The Sweet Treat Trio is an add-on.
The Sweet Treat Trio box comes packed with 3 thoughtfully conceptualized and expertly executed pastries:
- Honey for my Honey: layer upon layer of honey-kissed cake, cream, and chamomile
- Choux for my Boo: an eclair filled with a rich toasted black sesame pastry cream
- Entremet for my Bae: a multi-textured mousse cake with roasted banana and coffee
Each pastry is a delicious piece of art. We interviewed the duo that created these masterpieces.
What inspired the pastries in the Valentines sweet trio box?
Yesenia: Zoee and I were discussing how cutesy Valentine’s day was. A holiday that allows you to get away with all things cheesy. After giggling over our ability to rhyme, we became really attached to the idea of a dessert box. Neither of us work pastry regularly and we thought it would be a fun challenge.
Zoee: It happened pretty spontaneously. Yesenia and I were just riffing one day. We were embracing the inherent cheesiness of Valentine’s and started coming up with rhyming dessert names. One thing led to another and the next thing you know, we were deciding on flavors and developing recipes.
Which one is your favorite and why?
Yesenia: Although I do love how the honey cake turned out, the entremet was very stunning! Every time we looked at the gently gold dusted feathers, we both squealed.
Zoee: I can’t pick a favorite child. Haha. I really loved working on them all. But the idea for the entremet came together in my head pretty well-formed, so it was fun to fine-tune and execute it within a couple of days. It’s satisfying for something to turn out as you picture it in your mind’s eye.
How do you two collaborate on pastries?
Yesenia: Oh it’s amazing! It starts with one word, then we start bouncing ideas off of each other. In between ridiculous propositions and laughing hysterically, we get a solid foundation for a project.
Zoee: Really naturally! We conceptualized everything together, did lots of taste testing and question asking. I love working with Yesenia because it feels really instinctive to collaborate. It’s a lot of fun to have someone to bounce ideas around with who is incredibly encouraging and thoughtful.
What inspired/motivated you to be a chef?
Yesenia: I guess I’ve always wanted to. I would play in restaurants a lot as a child. I would make my own little menu, I was the server, I would“cook” (at that age it was mostly pop-tarts and other toaster friendly items). Baking in particular has always been a go to in my family for coping, celebrating, or to just pass the time. It felt natural to find a life around food.
Zoee: I’ve always loved being in the kitchen and making things, but my “Aha!” moment was watching a documentary on Ferran Adria when I was about nine. I remember calling my mum while she was at work from our house phone and telling her that I was going to become a chef. I don’t think I could’ve put the words to it then, but in retrospect, I think it was at that moment that I realized that food was and is so much MORE.
Where did you learn your culinary skills?
Yesenia: In the beginning, my mom and food blogs. I did go to culinary school with a focus on pastry, which gave me a more formal understanding about how it all works. The skills have not been mastered but I progress day by day. Everyday at the restaurant is another learning experience.
Zoee: I learned a lot from reading and looking at cookbooks as I was growing up. TV shows and blogs were also part of the diet. I eventually went to culinary school and it was there that I was more formally trained.
What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
Yesenia: I am notorious for putting Chamomile in everything. Haha I can’t help it! I love the subtle floral notes and it goes beautifully with so many ingredients! In that same boat, I love using lavender and teas as well. I was happy to have snuck it into the honey cake in this project
Zoee: Can I say time? If not, French butter.
If you could eat only one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Yesenia: Chocolate chip cookie. It’s so simple and comforting
Zoee: There’s a really classic French cake called a Gâteau St. Honoré that I really love. It’s a wonderful combination of textures and is made using really foundational techniques that, when done well, come together pretty magically.
How has your cultural heritage influenced your cooking style?
Yesenia: This past year in particular, I have been making more of an effort to dive into dishes that make me feel more at home. I think who you are and where you come from will always subtly show itself in your food.
Zoee: Growing up in Malaysia exposed me to a wide array of flavors and I’d like to think that that exposure has made me less reserved about exploring less-straightforward combinations of ingredients, techniques and textures.
Are there any chefs – savory or pastry – that you look up to or are influenced by?
Yesenia: Of course there are big names like Juan Contreras and Kriss Harvey, the most influential have been the ones I have had the pleasure to work with. Including all of my current colleagues. Lisa Vega had a big influence on me, seeing her killing it now is inspiring!
Zoee: There are so many I look to for culinary inspiration. But the ones that have made a bigger impact on my life are the ones who have gone on to reimagine how we cook, eat and sustain those who feed us. Chefs like Christian Puglisi and Dan Barber are really important figures to me in that respect.
How do you see the pastry culinary world evolving? Are there any trends that you are excited about?
Yesenia: The culinary world as a whole is slowly moving in a more positive direction. It’s becoming more inclusive and a place where anyone has the opportunity to grow and learn.
Zoee: I hope we’re at a place where desserts and their makers are no longer relegated to a tiny corner. It’s exciting to me that more and more pastry chefs are deservedly being recognised for their work. I think it moves the whole craft forward in exciting, expansive ways.
What advice would you give to budding pastry chefs?
Yesenia: Be open to criticism, it’s probably meant to build you not to break you. Also, have fun and make things you want to eat!
Zoee: I don’t know that I’m qualified to give advice yet! But I’d definitely encourage them to do what I try to do myself – to remain open to beauty and ideas and lessons, especially from unexpected places. Music, art, poetry, your partner who doesn’t cook… all fair game.
Huge thanks to Yesenia and Zoee for sharing their story and what inspires them. If you’re looking to try their sweet or savory creations, head over to Birdsong restaurant in San Francisco!