The fresh batch: Ursula Siker
Name: Ursula Siker
Current City: Culver City, CA
Current Job: Head Baker/Kitchen Manager of Rising Hearts Bakery
What is your background in baking and how did you get to where you are today?
I am fully self-taught. I grew up baking casually at home, but never considered a career in pastry until one day I went a little overboard, baked a bunch of tarts and posted to Instagram. My soon-to-be boss saw the photos and asked me to come in, interviewed me for an entry-level sweets baker position, and I somehow landed the gig! That was almost 3 years ago now and I’ve just worked my way up since.
What do you love about your job?
Creating new recipes is seriously the coolest thing I’ll ever get to do. Having a fully stocked kitchen to use for all sorts of fun experiments is such a luxury, and I have a wonderful staff here that will always give me their honest opinions on whatever new product I’m trying to develop. I get paid to be a mad scientist and it will never get old.
What are your favorite products to make?
Recently I’ve been working on a new and improved vanilla cake, and I’ve really been enjoying the process—each batch comes out a little closer to perfect. It is very exciting since it’s so difficult to find a vegan gluten-free vanilla cake with the correct texture and flavor. Other favorites are the brioche, brownies, and our take on a rye loaf.
What do you consider to be the biggest food trends impacting your business, and how are you responding?
Luckily for us, one of the biggest food trends currently, gluten-free, happens to be our entire facility. Being fully vegan as well allows us to get more creative with our products, while leaving a smaller footprint. The largest trend that we do not cater to would have to be paleo. We admire those who can do it, but our focus is more on keeping things allergen friendly, though I’m sure there are wonderful bakeries out there with paleo options.
What is the best advice you have received from other bakers/ chefs?
Don’t beat yourself up too much. I will always be my toughest critic which constantly pushes me to do better, but also means I can be too hard on myself when it comes to recipe development. Sometimes it takes a while to get things right and finding joy rather than frustration through that process is crucial.
Who would you would like to collaborate with in the kitchen?
Oh wow, so many people. I am a huge fan of Tal Ronnen and Serafina Magnussen from Crossroads Kitchen here in Los Angeles. They do truly mind blowing and sophisticated things with vegan food and have been a wonderful advocate for our sister company Follow Your Heart. Additionally, I would absolutely love to work with Roy Choi because as a Los Angeles native myself, I feel he represents this city in such a fun, thoughtful, and authentic way through his food that I would just like to be involved in any way possible.
What is the best thing you’ve eaten lately?
The Mole Bowl with plantains from Sage Organic Vegan Bistro gets me every time. It is so filling and packed with flavors from every taste group, it rules!
When you are not in the bakery, where can you be found?
Sleeping I suppose, or on the verge of sleep in bed with Netflix. Whenever I can’t sleep I can be found at Canter’s Deli on Fairfax. They are open 24 hours, and I thrive off of their free coffee refills and poor cell service.
In terms of innovation, what do you think your generation brings to the table?
I feel a lot of people are taking it back to basics with a trend towards ancient grains. Quinoa and millet are everywhere! Also, vegan and gluten-free alternatives to anything fast food is huge right now from a Vegan Big Mac to Vegan Hostess Cupcakes (the Fauxstess as we call it here). It’s pretty remarkable what people are coming up with and how well they’re executing these visions.
What is something you would like to achieve that you have not done already?
From a culinary standpoint, a natural and organic way to get a better shelf life on gluten-free products is next. We have to work with the short lifespan of rice flour, forcing us to freeze most products same day as they are baked. Ideally we want to be able to let our customers leave our bread out on the counter for days as they would normal bread, without comprising the quality of ingredients used. From a personal standpoint, I still have a ways to go before I’ve eaten at every restaurant ever but I’m working on it.