BY FIEL ESTRELLA
When asked how he found baking, Chino L. Cruz likes to say it was an accident.
“Though I guess I might be romanticizing it a bit that way,” he concedes. A lifelong food obsessive, the food stylist, writer, and one-time Yummy magazine editor didn’t start baking until halfway through college, well on his way to a Communication degree.
“I explicitly remember buying a copy of the second issue of Dave Chang and Pete Meehan’s [now defunct] food magazine Lucky Peach, God bless its soul,” Cruz recalls. He became enamored with one of the featured recipes: Momofuku Milk Bar chef Christina Tosi’s banana cream pie. “This was before Milk Bar had become this worldwide phenomenon and Tosi was still actively running their Twitter page,” he adds. “So I was really just drawn to this new way of thinking about pastry that I’d never quite seen before. It was playful and had a distinct point of view, but it was really rooted in meticulous technique.”
COURTESY OF BAKER ON EAST
Today, Cruz owns and operates home-based small-batch bake shop Baker on East with his brother Gio, who serves as creative director. The shop favors classic quality treats over anything that’s over-complicated or trendy—albeit with subtle notches, be it earl grey-scented chocolate cake or red miso in chocolate chunk cookies. Comfort, with a little bit of risk. (Which, if you think about it, is kind of what baking is all about.)
When Cruz started baking, it was initially to hone his organizational skills in the kitchen. “I have ADHD, so I tend to shoot from the hip whenever I cook,” he explains. “But it eventually grew into this bigger thing when people started to notice that I baked and did it pretty well.” With Baker on East, he admits he’s drifted from the school of thought employed by Milk Bar, but he insists he owes a lot to it for leading him to baking. “And I’ve stuck with it ever since.”
Cruz spoke to The Edition about the beginnings of Baker on East, how they approach “unorthodox” flavors, and the best thing about baking as a process.
What led you to starting Baker on East?
My friends did! In all honesty, people had been bugging me to start some sort of baking thing for as long as I can remember. I was always the guy who would make people custom birthday cakes and bring loaves of brioche to the org room back in college or the office while I was still working in publishing.
There’s that, and also the fact that I do this thing where I ideate and come up with new concepts on the regular—I blame my ADHD—and I felt that there was a gap in the home-baking sector for something that was a bit more sleek, contemporary and straightforward, less rooted in heavily gendered branding and gimmicks. This particular idea stuck around for once, though, since I decided to team up with my brother Gio to help keep me grounded and actually execute our ideas, versus just staying an idea in my head.
Flavor-wise, what factors do you consider most important?
I’ve noticed that people are starting to take note that our flavors tend to be a bit “unusual” and “out-of-the-box” but in my mind, they really aren’t. A lot of the ideas that we work with have been done before, and what we do really is try to develop food that is as elevated and as compelling flavor-wise as you can get. We don’t add red miso to our chocolate chunk cookies just because we can; we use it because we think that it makes for a better chocolate chunk cookie, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
We do have a tendency to use “unorthodox” flavors, but that has a lot more to do with my deep, deep immersion in the world of food and food media. This stuff isn’t really unorthodox if you do your research! It just so happens that no one here has done it the way we have quite yet, or at least I like to think.
What do you like most about baking as a process?
I feel like I’ve written about this hundreds of times, but it continues to hold true: I think that what drew me the most to baking was the fact that it is never a purely solitary act. You can bake alone in the comforts of your own tiny kitchen, but you never really bake for one. Baking requires you to think about sharing something with people. It is an act that evokes images of breaking bread, of passing plates, and of communion and communication between loved ones. Baking, in my mind at least, means we are able to actively share something of us with people around us. And that’s sort of why Baker on East exists. We really just want to share a part of us, a piece of who we are, with the rest of the world.
What would you say is the advantage of having had no formal training as a baker? What measures do you take to continuously grow and learn?
I actually really, really wish I could go to pastry school so I can really hone in on my technique. Haha! I still can’t make laminated pastry to save my life, though I’m definitely working on it. What’s interesting, though, is that the foundations of my cooking “education” are built on food media. I grew up idolizing people like Sandy Daza and Nigella Lawson. I also have a massive collection of cookbooks and food magazines that I pore over on the regular.
Our point-of-view is very much informed by my obsessive collection of food media detritus and my stealing ideas from places as far back as St. John in London and State Bird Provisions in San Francisco. I’m very much interested in technique and getting things absolutely right, but I also feel like we’re not too tied to any particular school of thought and we can sort of play around with our influences and identity that way
What makes Baker on East different, and what does it bring to the local market?
Baker on East is different because it’s very much a reflection of who are and what we love. We do not and are not willing to compromise who we are as both a business and a brand just because it’ll earn us more money. That isn’t the point. What we want to do is offer our unique POV, because we haven’t quite seen it before in Manila, and make our mark as these young, intrepid creators who have something to say, boldly and bravely so. The flavors that we present are flavors that we love, no more. And we are more than proud of that.
For orders, contact Baker on East at 0917-539-7640.