Aya is the Executive Pastry Chef at Maple & Ash and etta and also owns her own bakery located in West Town. She was born in Japan and moved to Boston when she was 9 years old. Aya always had a sweet tooth and grew up with a family that loved and appreciated food. While other kids were dreaming of becoming astronauts and princesses, she always wanted to become a pastry chef just so she could eat all the cake her heart desires. Aya started at Boston University and graduated with a hospitality management degree. After college, she worked at a variety of restaurants and hotels before moving to Chicago. Her first gig in Chicago was the pastry chef at the Elysian Hotel. Today, Aya owns her own bakery and is eating all the cake that she wants!
Aya is a true gem to the Chicago pastry scene. She’s not afraid to look at traditional food and re-create them in a way that can be more fun and whimsical or just to improve the quality of it. The Dino Macs are humongous macarons that are made to look like a dinosaur egg. At Aya’s bakery, they make their banana bread to be about half as tall as what a traditional banana loaf is. The lower profile banana bread bakes in about 30-40 minutes and is more optimal to keep it moist.
I admire her respect and philosophy for food. She’s wildly talented and incredibly humble, which is reflected within her style of pastries. Her ideology is to make simple things that people crave while executing them in the best way possible. If you’ve had her famous samoa cookie cake, it exemplifies this. You can find her products at Foxtrot, All Together Now, Stumptown, Green Grocer or Plum Market. She’s also recently-ish opened a retail space within her bakery that’s open every Friday and Saturday from 8am-1pm.
- How did you first get into baking/pastry?: The first time that I ever made anything pastry related was with my mom when I was about 7 years old. We made chocolate truffles together for Valentine’s Day for my dad. My first professional pastry related job was through Boston University. They have an alumni club inside a venue called the State Room which also hosts banquets of all sizes. I started as an intern producing banquet dessert and wedding cakes while I was in college.
- How did you make the transition/what was your career path that led you to have your own pastry program for various restaurants while also doing retail?: In Chicago, I worked as a pastry chef at the Elysian Hotel, at Sixteen, and for Maple & Ash before opening up the bakery. I was able to work alongside many talented cooks and chefs during these years. The trust and the relationships that I nurtured with all of my past co-workers have a lot to do with the success of the business now. I am happy to be able to continue working with many of them in a different capacity. Retail bakery business has also been something that I have always wanted to do to share what I love. It was always difficult in the past when I worked in fine dining establishments to be able to share my desserts with everyone. (You would have to sit through a 12 course tasting menu and pay a hefty bill to make it to the dessert course)
- Biggest influences or inspirations for doing what you do?: The biggest influences and inspirations come from everyone that I work with and from my travels.
- Favorites bakeries and/or pastries?: My favorite pastry is a Mont Blanc (chestnut cake). I like Dominique Ansel Bakery, Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki, and Craftsman and Wolves (all for different reasons and all for having their own very unique identity)
- What’s your vision/goal for yourself as a pastry chef? For your business?: My goal as a pastry chef and for the business is to be able to share crave-worthy treats executed at a high skill level without pretentiousness with as many people as possible.
- What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in owning your own business? Favorite parts about it?: Not everything is going to go as planned. I have learned to always keep my mind open to changes and to be creative with solutions to all the curve balls that get thrown at you. My favorite part about owning my own business is to see all of the growth that we have gone through together as a team.
- Anything interesting about yourself that most people wouldn’t know: I ruptured my Achilles’s tendon 2 weeks before my wedding dancing to Missy Elliot… and apparently I don’t have much shame since I am sharing this information.
- Advice to other people that are trying to find their passion or they already have their passion and how to pursue it?: It takes a tremendous amount of hard work, time, and dedication to grow in this industry. Don’t forget to have just as much fun and laugh with your co-workers along the way.