Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Halekulani BakeryRestaurant Insider
February 26, 2023
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANNE LEE
ANNE LEE speaks with Halekulani Bakery executive pastry chef PAULINE LAM
Just about every child’s dream is to be surrounded by cakes, cookies and pies. At age 4, Halekulani Bakery’s executive pastry chef Pauline Lam arrived in California from Singapore. Her uncle brought her to a school carnival, where she learned of a game called “cake walk,” basically musical chairs, that had a gorgeous chocolate cake as the prize. She had never had a chocolate cake before; cut fruit was the extent of her sweet tooth cravings. Determined to eat that chocolate cake, Lam won the game. You could say she was able to have her cake and eat it, too.
That was more than 20 years ago and, today, she oversees Halekulani’s bake shop, which handles all the bakery and dessert production for the hotel’s food and beverage outlets and Halekulani Bakery, located at sister hotel Halepuna Waikiki by Halekulani. I had the pleasure of sharing some of the delicious pastries with chef as we talked about the amazing journey that led her here.
AL: How did you get into this industry?
PL: When I was in first grade, I remember Mrs. Hirai made lots of delicious baked goods for my elementary school’s bake sale, from cupcakes to coco puffs. All the other moms were in awe of her talent. She was my inspiration. This led me on my culinary path with experience in fine dining, corporate dining, as well as hotel and large-scale production. I went to Le Cordon Bleu in London and trained in French patisserie, and upon completion, I landed a job at The Fairmont Hotel back home. The French executive pastry chef gave me the best advice and encouraged me to look at other places to work, as he felt I could take my talent elsewhere instead of dipping strawberries in chocolate every day.
AL: Can you tell me more about your culinary journey and how you ended up in Hawaii?
PL: I went on to work as a pastry chef in many well-known restaurants in Northern California. I also launched my own pastry catering company, Choux Choux Pastries.
My other experiences were as the corporate pastry chef for the Left Bank Restaurant Group in the San Francisco Bay Area in addition to working at Google as executive pastry chef and chef de cuisine at Root Café, the Asian-Latin outlet on the Google campus. After about 10 years working for Google, I was looking for a slower pace and had been to Hawaii many times.
Prior to coming to Halekulani, my father had to have heart surgery. That brought me back home and, as luck would have it, I was able to work with the team at San Jose State University as campus executive chef overseeing a $22 million dollar operation.
AL: What bakery treats did you prepare for us today?
PL: I have been making and perfecting the Blueberry Mango Crumb Muffin ($4.75) since 2009. It’s my dad’s favorite. This has more fruit than most muffins. I like to say that it’s healthier. The Banana Bread, which I know is your favorite, is sold by the loaf ($12) beautifully packaged, or you can have a slice ($3.75). It’s a delicious moist cake-like banana bread. We also have a few hot Breakfast Sandwiches ($10.50), made with our in-house baked focaccia bread with soft scrambled eggs, black forest ham and Gruyere cheese and served toasted. You can add smoked salmon and capers for an additional $1.50.
I also prepared the Everything Croissant (call for cost), which is my personal favorite. It’s a play on an everything bagel with spices like poppy seed, garlic, onion and sesame seed, with fresh cream cheese in the middle. We have our popular Mango Kouign-amann ($6.50) that our head baker, Mr. Statoshi, developed. We have the Halekulani Cattleya logo embossed on each pastry with powdered sugar. For those that love our signature Coconut Cake, you can order a slice for $14.
We encourage guests to come early as items tend to sell out.
AL: What is the secret to baking? PL: For this bakery, it’s the team. We have a supportive team as we are responsible for all baking aspects for the hotel and all the restaurants.
Without all of the combined efforts of everyone, we couldn’t be successful.
Personally, when I bake, I always joke and say I leave out the love. What this means is that you have to patient and measure each ingredient, be precise and follow directions.
Baking is structured and if you follow that it will come out right each time.