If Tomo Osawa hadn’t fallen in love with cooking, she might still be working a nine-to-five office job in Tokyo. Instead, she moved to Seattle in 2005 to study culinary arts and became obsessed with baking.
This passion for pastries has since led Osawa on an extraordinary journey. She worked for Ponti, a high-end seafood grill that overlooks the Seattle waterfront, and later moved to Los Angeles, where she won a position at Spago, a famed Beverly Hills bistro, and where she assisted Sherry Yard, one of the most celebrated pastry chefs in the world. When Tomo started her tenure at Brentwood’s Amandine Patisserie, she says she baked an average of 30 gourmet cakes per day.
In 2013, Osawa moved to Phoenix with her husband. After two years at Echo Coffee in Scottsdale, Osawa was hired to create a pastry menu for Fàme Caffe, a new eatery in midtown Phoenix.
Osawa works at a frantic pace. Humble and giggly, she's driven by a diehard passion for her craft: After a long workday that can start as early as 4 a.m., she almost always goes to bed with a cookbook in hand.
“I find it comforting,” she says with a laugh.
How did you get into pastry?
The Tokyo area has really good pastry bakeries. They have really high quality, the same as Los Angeles or New York. When I went to culinary school, I was interested in pastry, and I did more and more.
I’ve heard that pastry chefs often have a sweet tooth by nature.
I eat all the time! But I don’t eat chips or burgers or stuff like that. I eat like sourdough bread with jam or butter.
When you first came here, how impressed were you with Phoenix’s pastry scene?
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So what have you started introducing to people in Phoenix?
That’s the difficult thing. I give people something to taste, but they don’t always taste it. If they have a chocolate chip cookie and something I [have created], they just try the chocolate chip. Maybe they’re afraid. I’m surprised how people react. So I talk [about the pastries], I explain to them that a brioche is a three-day process. Something like a brioche, a croissant, these things take a long time. So I want to introduce to them how it is made. I can educate them. I want them to trust me.
Have you noticed a change among the customers since you started working at Fàme?
The people who react are kids. I’m very surprised by that. Whenever parents bring kids, a few times I see the kids point [at a more unusual pastry] – and I think, “I did a good job there!” The parents say, “I want the cookie,” or whatever. But I saw a couple kids [pick something more adventurous], and I always say, “Good choice!”
Do you remember what they picked out?
It’s called melonpan – it’s like sweet bread with cookie dough on top. It’s pretty popular in Japan. I made that a couple of times at Fàme, and nobody really bought it. It was sad. But I was so happy that [the kids] wanted it.
Pastry chefs famously wake up at extremely early hours. Are you a morning person by nature?
I don’t think so. I don’t really know. At school, my first class started at 6:45. It was pretty early. I think I may be a morning person – although some mornings I think, “I’m not going to make it!”
You could have studied any number of things. Why did you stick to pastry, specifically?
I just love it. I think baking the pastry requires more planning, and I’m good at planning. I like thinking about something backward, and I believe that pastry requires that. In the kitchen, you start making something, and if you want to change it, you can add, you can reduce. You can see the process, and you can change the process. But in pastry science, you cannot do that. That’s why I have to think backwards. I think, “I’m going to do this, and I cannot change my mind.” So I have the image for that. Then I think, “What am I going to need?” And from that point I break it down. The way I think is almost the opposite of [a regular] kitchen. And I realized I’m good at that.
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