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Salute to the Savory Underground

Within Chicago’s dynamic culinary scene, a cadre of emerging pastry artisans is redefining the boundaries of savory pastries through the meticulous craft of laminated dough. These young, skilled chefs, driven by passion and innovation, bring a fresh perspective to the traditional art of pastry-making. Their creations, exhibited in a few establishments, exemplify a sophisticated amalgamation of classical techniques and contemporary flavors. From ingeniously filled croissants to avant-garde interpretations of savory Danishes, these culinary visionaries shape a refined narrative that elevates Chicago’s culinary landscape. In the heart of Chicago, their mastery of laminated dough blended with savory flavors becomes a testament to the harmonious blend of tradition and ingenuity.

I am pleased to introduce you to two unique young pastry talents, Justin Lerias and Frezza Ira. Lerias is the chef/owner of Del Sur Bakery (@delsur.bakery), a pop-up selling out of Side Practice Coffee (@sidepractice.coffee) in Ravenswood. The concept is a Filipino-Midwestern take on pastries. Lerias’s pies show a considerable understanding of dessert, and there are always savory offerings. Take the Kare Kare Danish. Kare-Kare is a Filipino dish of Beef braised in peanut bisque and vegetables. Currently, he has added a longanisa croissant to the regular rotation. Longanisa is a pork sausage seasoned with brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, paprika and annatto seed. Lerias prepares the link himself, piping two rows of the sausage into croissant dough; once it bakes, it gets brushed with soy caramel and finished with a generous portion of bay leaf-scented cured egg yolks.

 “Personally, savory pastries allow me to reminisce on my childhood and upbringing by looking back on dishes that my mom cooked and incorporating that into my work and sharing it with many people.”, Lerias explains, “It’s a nonverbal way to tell my story and also teach people about my culture.”

Ira (@iranavaaa) operates Bie Lamon, and a heartfelt childhood story inspires her brand. In the Philippines, she and her two siblings confronted hunger in the face of adversity. Seeking solace, the youngest, fueled by creativity, drew a character to inspire hope. When the sister asked for the character’s name, the young brother, with optimism, replied, ‘Bie Lamon.’ 

In Kapampangan, ‘Bie’ can mean ‘give’; and in Tagalog ‘Lamon’ implies “eating heartily,” so now Frezza ‘gives delicious pastry to devour!’  Therefore, ‘Bie Lamon’ is a symbol of aspirations for a future filled with abundant, satisfying food. It represents a fusion of familial warmth and the anticipation of better days, where they could gather around hearty tables, savoring the taste of delicious pastries.

Ira is also working for Enjoy Brite (@enjoybrite), a sister company of Metric Coffee in the process of transitioning their Avondale location to the existing commissary on Fulton St. She is the group’s only laminator and the chef responsible for pushing all of Metric Coffee’s flaky pastries. (I helped the company evolve from a donut place to a proper bakery that serves seasonal Danish and classics such as butter croissants and chocolate croissants.) “Something about [the job] gives me a sense of accomplishment,” she says. “I am always in pursuit of achieving a perfect croissant and continuing to learn the craft.”

Ira’s savory items are as varied as they are creative: Bourbon Maple and Longanissa Bear Claw, Browned Butter Caramel Miso Banana Danish, Raclette Danish with Serrano Ham, and Ube Halaya and Coconut Jam Danish.

As a self-taught baker, Ira learned to laminate by hand at home. Soon after, she worked up to a hand-cranked, compact dough sheet by Brod & Taylor (https://brodandtaylor.com/). Ironically, Lerias uses the same type of sheet. (The type of dough sheeter I typically place during bakery build-outs can cost $15-20K or more.) The compact sheeter allows Artisan chefs and small operators to create laminated pastry doughs and other items easily and with a greater volume. As contemporary pastry chefs, we are always supported by superior technology and equipment evolution. 

In the evolving landscape of laminated pastry, Chicago’s culinary scene is enriched by talents like Justin Lerias and Frezza Ira. Lerias blends Filipino-Midwestern flavors in inventive pies, while Ira’s self-taught journey with Bie Lamon and Enjoy Brite reflects dedication and pursuit of perfection. ‘Bie Lamon,’ symbolizing hope and abundance, adds a poignant layer to the narrative. As these young pastry virtuosos redefine tradition, their creations stand as testaments to the harmonious blend of heritage and ingenuity, enriching Chicago’s pastry landscape.

(This article appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)

Jimmy MacMillan
Jimmy MacMillan
Jimmy MacMillan is a celebrated pastry chef, food writer, and award-winning videographer. Working under the label Pastry Virtuosity, his mission is to inspire and nurture pastry chefs and sweet businesses one project at a time. For more information, visit: www.pastryvirtuosity.com.