Super Like is our series on the food people we’re crushing on—and think you might be too. This is Laura Hoang, the pastry whiz and chef de cuisine at the Cantonese restaurant Pearl River Deli in L.A.
For Laura Hoang, there’s no better source of inspiration than the grocery store checkout aisle. Considering her infectious, playful energy and affinity for a nicely rolled joint, it makes sense. “My entire pastry career has revolved around making nostalgic, processed packaged sweets from scratch through the lens of someone that grew up eating them and thought they were God’s gift,” she says.
After stints at various L.A. spots including Republique and the now closed burger restaurant Buddy’s, Hoang spent the pandemic baking from home, pumping out vanilla-pandan canelés and her own take on Milanos (deemed “Milargos”) for various pop-ups and the Chinatown coffee shop Thank You Coffee. Nowadays, you can find her pastries, shokupan, and desserts at Pearl River Deli, where she holds court as chef de cuisine. She is also set to oversee lunchtime offerings—both savory and sweet—which will start up in June at the acclaimed Cantonese restaurant.
At Pearl River Deli, she’s leaning on her Vietnamese background to develop a whole new repertoire of recipes, including a coconut pudding that she’s particularly excited about. She recently learned that it whips into stiff peaks, which means she can use it to decorate cakes. “I’m diving into my culture and really understanding it instead of just buying it and consuming it,” Hoang says.
All the while, she remains steadfast in her commitment to gas station snacks, to nailing the salt content in her baked goods, and to wonton soup as comfort food.
Occupation: Chef de cuisine at Pearl River Deli
Favorite kitchen tool: A tie between a digital scale and a Thermapen cooking thermometer.
Thermoworks Thermapen ONE
Escali Primo P115C Precision Kitchen Food Scale
If you could only have one condiment in your fridge, what would it be?
Butter. Because you can turn it into a sauce. Yeah, it would be butter. It just has to be butter. Oh, and Mama’s Way Hot Sauce from Woon, a Chinese restaurant here in L.A. That’s what I put on everything. It’s a vinegary chopped pepper sauce. It’s like the stuff you get in all of the Chinese restaurants, but the addition of vinegar makes it very pourable and it’s not that spicy.
You’re going on a road trip. Which snacks are you picking up at the gas station?
I definitely grab cheddar and sour cream Ruffles. And if they carry them (a lot of places don’t), I buy unsalted potato chips by Kettle or Dirty. I always create a snack mix of all the different chips that I like. I’m obsessed with Coca-Cola, so I’ll get a giant Coke with a bunch of ice and if they have the soda water option [on a fountain machine], I’ll dilute my coke to have like, 60% sweetness. I also love almond M&M’s. Lighters, always. And the yellow Vitamin Water, which is tropical-flavored. It’s so good, and there’s caffeine in it.
What’s your favorite meal to eat (or make) when stoned?
Anything crunchy. On 4/20, I held a kick back at home and I have this one-foot-square grill. It’s the smallest thing ever; I found it at Savers, the thrift store. I put a quarter-sheet tray over it and made quesadillas. I asked everyone I invited to bring something to put in them. Also, instant noodles—I add vegetables and a really beautiful egg on top, and that’s a go-to stoney baloney meal. The last thing would be ice cream, because I’m lucky to have a bunch of talented ice cream makers as friends. Right now, I have a honey-mezcal sorbet from Chainsaw in my freezer. And my friend Michelle of Pints Creamery makes an amazing black sesame ice cream. I love eating trashy ice cream too. I always have at the ready two pints of something that I can snack on.
Who is your favorite food person to follow on Instagram?
I love Mina Park, she’s @ninetynin.e on Instagram. She makes these amazing whipped cream cakes. She made an espresso-soaked sponge cake with smooth chestnut purée and cocoa-dusted mascarpone ruffles, which is really similar to something I did. They happened at different times, and we didn’t have any interaction with each other. I love the Instagram internet space for pastry information sharing.
Who is your dream culinary collaborator?
Brooks Headley of Superiority Burger, the vegetarian (but mostly vegan) burger joint in NYC. I’m just waiting for that call. I’ve been adding vegan recipes to my repertoire because a lot of Vietnamese desserts are naturally vegan and gluten-free. They use rice for everything. They use coconut milk for everything.
What’s the most underrated ingredient for baking?
Salt. It’s really hard to make something too salty. Let’s say you have a standard chocolate chip cookie recipe: two eggs, half a pound of butter, and usually one to two teaspoons of salt. What if you made it a full tablespoon? Would it be delicious? Would it be too salty? Probably not. It’s worth it to make that same recipe five different times at 31, 32, 33, 34, and 35 grams of salt, to see if you hit a money spot. Realizing how to hit that ceiling, and how cause and effect works, that’s what makes you a good cook.
When you need to get away for a quick vacation, where are you going?
Ojai. It’s a two-hour-away oasis. I always go by myself. I don’t really allow myself to do stuff by myself. I’ve got a dog and I’ve got a partner I’m in love with, so it’s really hard to find those moments where I don’t consider anyone else. I’ve learned the importance of getting away and saying very few words and letting the surroundings envelop you. Ojai is the best place for that.
Which L.A. restaurants are your go-to for comfort food?
Yang’s Kitchen in Alhambra. If I’m really sad and need uplifting, really good food, I go there. I love Woon for their beef noodles and their chicken wings. I live within walking distance to Mandarin Noodle House, and it’s the best orange chicken I’ve ever had. Before I worked at Pearl River Deli, I was a customer there, and they were with me when my dog was lost for an entire day. I drafted a missing dog poster, it was all over Instagram, and it was all over Nextdoor. They made me two wonton soups, and I took them home. I ate them, I cried, I went to sleep, and then at two in the morning someone called and had found my dog. That wonton soup is still one of my favorite things on the menu.
What song do you have on repeat right now?
Money Dance by DUCKWRTH. It’s really fun to drive to and it always puts me in a better mood than I’m in before listening to it.
Which fruit thrills you the most to see in season?
Passion fruit. Its season starts in August and the fruits themselves last for a long time because all of the pulp is airtight. They’re an invasive species, so when the vine is alive, it takes over, it takes up space, it weaves in between other things, and the fruits just hang and look like dinosaur eggs. It’s my favorite fruit, it’s really easy to incorporate into anything, it has more vitamin C than lemons or oranges. It’s nice to amp things up with passion fruit. It just hits all of the notes.
Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit