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Soraya Medina of Heavenly Bites on Peruvian Food, Orange Cake, and Coconut Oil

Forks up, Phoenix! Chow Bella and Roosevelt Row present the seventh annual Pie Social at 2 p.m. on Saturday, November 19, at the Bioscience High School at 512 East Pierce Street. We've got an all-star lineup of bakers making pies for you to taste, and from now till Pie Social, we'll introduce them to you, one by one.

Today, Soraya Medina of Heavenly Bites

Soraya Medina is owner and founder of Heavenly Bites bakery and holds a bachelor's degree in business management from Medgar Evers College, as well as a diploma in pastry and baking arts from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. Medina is a classically trained chef and aims to offer her customers healthier desserts. She moved to Arizona to pursue her dream of opening her own organic bakery.

What is the first dish you remember fixing yourself at home?

My mom isn't a baker, she's a cook, but the two things she did know how to make are Peruvian budin (bread pudding) and arroz con leche (rice pudding). I remember being so excited to learn how to make bread pudding when I was little because she did not make it often.

What is the one thing you always had in your kitchen growing up?

Potatoes! You can never run out of potatoes in a Peruvian household. A lot of Peruvian dishes are made with potatoes, such as papa la huancaina, lomo saltado, causa, papa rellena ... the list goes on. If you never tried Peruvian food, you should definitely try it. I found a good Peruvian restaurant called Tumi in Chandler.

What are five essentials in your home kitchen today?

My most prized possession is my beautiful bright green Kitchen-Aid; it was a gift from my mom after I completed culinary school in New York. Second most important essential is my measuring cups/spoons — we all know baking is a science. I've tried many different flours since I started baking, and the best flour out there is Giusto's organic flour — can't bake without it. Organic coconut oil is a big staple in our kitchen and household. I bake with it, and you can use it in so many different ways. You will NEVER want to use Crisco again after knowing the many health benefits coconut oil has! Last, but not least, is music. Music is part of my culture, and it makes baking so much fun.

What is a memorable dish from your childhood and the back story?

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Since I was 6 years old, my mom and I would go to Peru every summer. My older cousin would always bake an orange cake for me. We would all devour it, and then the next day I would wait patiently to go to the market and get all the ingredients to make more cake. But this time, the orange cake would be more special to me because I made it. The word "cake" was mentioned a lot of times when I was with my cousin. She opened my world to desserts without even knowing it.

Who inspired you to become a chef and why?

My right hand — my sous-chef husband. My husband and I are big foodies; we will travel for good food no matter how far it is. Ever since I can remember, we always baked desserts together when he was living at his parents' house. My mother-in-law always laughed at us because our favorite thing to do over the weekend was rent a good movie and bake. We would always try these new recipes after watching the Food Network. In 2006, I had an allergic reaction from a vaccination, which brought on health challenges including a near-death experience. With lots of research, I realized many toxic ingredients are in foods we put into our bodies daily. Obtaining a pastry degree allowed me to create healthy desserts without toxins. I vowed to live a healthier lifestyle, and to become more informed about what I put into my body. I decided to go organic; I always wanted to incorporate a healthier version of desserts. My number-one goal is to educate the public that they can have healthy desserts without sacrificing any taste!

The 2016 Pie Social Celebrity Bakers so far:

Adam Allison of SuperFarm

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