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Sweet Spot

Carolyn Jung | November 14, 2016 | Story Restaurants National

If he bakes it, they will come. Such has been the response to the pop-up bake sales that pastry chef John Shelsta began hosting this summer on Saturday mornings at Zola restaurant in downtown Palo Alto. As word has spread, so too have the lines around the corner in sugary suspense. From as far away as San Francisco and Gilroy, they come for picture-perfect croissants, shatteringly crisp kouign-amanns, monster-size chocolate-toffee cookies and anything else dreamed up by Shelsta. After all, when you’ve trained under San Francisco superstar bakers William Werner of Craftsman and Wolves, Belinda Leong of B. Patisserie and Greg Mindel of Neighbor Bakehouse, people take notice. “I still have a hard time wrapping my head around what’s happening,” says Shelsta. “It’s left me speechless.”

The 1,000 baked goods, about 21 different types priced from $3 to $6, sell out every time. All are made by hand by Shelsta, with assistance from Mimi Mendoza, who, until recently, was the pastry chef of Chez TJ in Mountain View. Shelsta makes the fresh pastries in a borrowed kitchen—Howie’s Artisan Pizza in Redwood City that’s temporarily closed, where he once was head chef—during a 24-hour marathon baking session. “His stuff is incredible and rivals the best I’ve had in Paris,” says Zola owner Guillaume Bienaimé, former executive chef of Marché in Menlo Park, where Shelsta got his start as a cook. Shelsta hopes to eventually open his own cafe on the Peninsula to serve brunch, lunch and, of course, superlative pastries. “I just fell in love with working with dough,” he says. “It’s very exacting. You can do so many things with it. It’s like a canvas.” Look for pop-ups by this Dali of dough on Nov. 19 and Dec. 17. For dates in 2017, email to receive his newsletter.

Originally published in the November issue of Silicon Valley

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