Amanda Cheng is the Ming to the Mak at Kitsilano’s well-loved dining spot Mak N Ming (1629 Yew Street). Although the restaurant may bear her Chinese name, she doesn’t actually create any traditional Chinese desserts.
Trained at New York’s Culinary Institute of America, Cheng has worked at Park Avenue in New York, Fraiche in West Vancouver, and Riquiqui in Hong Kong. Her obsession with pastries began a long time ago, induced by Martha Stewart television segments and a deep love for eating sweets.
“I like baking more traditional stuff, just anything that’s comforting and stuff that people have grown up with,” Cheng told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Stuff that is timeless and classic, and mostly French.”
She devotes most of her time in her dining establishment’s tiny kitchen to creating crowd-favourite desserts that are in sync with the French and Japanese flavours on chef Makoto Ono’s tasting menus. Needless to say, she’s one of the most talented pastry chefs in Vancouver. Here, she dishes on her favourite pastry shop in the city and her go-to treat, among other sweet things.
How long have you been making pastries?
I’ve been making pastries for 10 years. I don’t want to say exactly, because then people will do the math and figure out I’m a lot older than I look.
What’s the creative process like for coming up with new desserts?
The main thing I try to think about is what people like to eat and what I like to eat. I don’t follow what’s trendy. I know some pastry chefs will try new techniques and new ingredients, but at the end of the day I think it’s important to make stuff that people like to eat. With experience, you can just imagine how things taste. A lot of it is just mental preparation.
What’s the best thing about creating pastries at Mak N Ming?
I like to experiment with some Asian flavours because of Makoto [Ono]. We have tapioca pudding right now, and people love it. People also really like our sake-kasu parfait. Sometimes a lot of our regulars forget what they’ve eaten. They’re not very high-maintenance, and everyone is just really happy to be here.
What’s the best dessert you’ve ever had?
There’s so many. At Spago in Los Angeles, there’s this really good strawberry pancake thing [Austrian Kaiserschmarrn]. It’s really simple, like a soufflé with strawberry sauce. In New York, I worked for this pastry chef and all his desserts were really good. It’s hard to choose.
Your favourite pastry shop in the city?
Thomas Haas is always good. I think he’s one of the first ones [in the city] that’s really elevated, and he does both pastries and chocolates. I always get the double-baked almond croissant.
What would you consider your signature creation?
For a while, a lot of people knew me for making pavlova because I used to make a lot of pavlova. I don’t like the oven here as much, so I don’t make it as much here. For a long time I didn’t eat it because I thought it was just sugar and egg white and just really sweet. But then I had a proper pavlova, and I thought, “Wow, pavlova can be good.”
Which pastry chef would you love to collaborate with the most?
Chika Tillman of ChikaLicious Dessert Bar, based in New York. I think it was the first dessert bar I went to, and that always left an impression with me. Everything she does is so delicate and everything tastes good on her menu. She has a Japanese palate, so it’s never too sweet and always very light.
What’s your go-to dessert?
Any ice cream. I’m lactose-intolerant, but I eat all ice creams. I like any flavour with nuts because nuts are always good.