Interview: pastry chef Waylynn Lucas (fōnuts)

  • Home
  • Chefs
  • Interview: pastry chef Waylynn Lucas (fōnuts)
Pastry Chef Los Angeles

Photo courtesy of Tina Norton Photography

Waylynn Lucas spent her first eight years in L.A. before her mom moved the family to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She started working at restaurants at age 12, and after returning to Los Angeles at age 20, eventually left urban living behind. Lucas moved to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, and opened Sugar Mami’s Cafe, which developed into a daily destination for jungle bound locals and tourists. Lucas closed up shop to attend the Art Institute of Los Angeles, in Santa Monica, and after completing her formal pastry education, began a culinary ascent. In the past few years, Lucas has risen to the top of the L.A. pastry scene, working at two restaurants that garnered four-star reviews in the LA Times: The Bazaar and Patina. She recently left her second stint at The Bazaar to help revolutionize the donut, partnering with friend and voice actress Nancy Truman on fōnuts, which focuses on contemporary, seasonally inspired baked donuts, both sweet and savory. We recently met on the patio at Bricks & Scones, where Lucas better explained her background and approach to fōnuts.

What are the desserts or pastries that you remember loving as a kid?

I grew up in a very foodie family. My mom learned to cook with Wolfgang Puck, and he was a longtime family friend. Food was our thing. I grew up eating at amazing restaurants, and the trips we took were always surrounded by and organized around food, and chefs and restaurants we wanted to taste. My mom was an amazing cook, and she cooked at home a lot for us, but she wasn’t much of a baker. I think that’s why I took the baking route and baking side of it.

One of the things I remember she would have so much fun baking for us was just bananas Foster. She’d be flambéing bananas or flambéing pineapple in the kitchen. She just loved doing it so much. She just recently got the bug again and invited me and my brother over, and it was like we were kids again with mom. She made us dinner and was flambéing bananas. I guess for me, it’s not necessarily my favorite dessert, but it’s one of those things, it has a place in me that’s just sort of comfort.

Will there be a bananas Foster fōnut?

There will be not be a bananas Foster’s fonut. One of my favorite flavors is actually caramelized banana. I’ve incorporated that into many of my plated desserts, but I’ve always tried to find a way to incorporate it where it’s not just a sliced, caramelized banana on the plate, because there’s nothing more tacky than that to me. It just reminds me of the 1980s, when you just had some sliced, ugly caramelized banana on the plate. So I’ve done things, creating banana puddings, and setting them with agar and gelatin, so where you can cut it in any way, shape or form, and it still has the texture of fresh banana, but you can still caramelize it, and it won’t melt or disintegrate. I think that sort of style, and to bring my favorite comfortable flavors, and just sort of do it in a new way, that’s just my style as a pastry chef, in general, so I definitely want to try and do those things with fōnuts, but I don’t have plans for a banana one right now.

What’s the first pastry you ever made?

I loved making cookies. I used to make cookies and brownies like crazy. Then I ended up having a lot of friends in the catering world, and I remember one time a friend was doing a gig for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” some big TV show, and for whatever reason – it was Halloween themed – he asked me to make decorated sugar cookies for hundreds of people, for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” I was up for like four days straight, hand decorating every little sugar cookie, in Halloween theme, purple, black and orange, and there were little bats and pumpkins and it was kind of right then I knew, having so much fun at home, literally staying up for four days straight to pull it off and make it happen, I knew at some point that’s what I wanted to do.

I remember at one point, totally, randomly, for fun, I was determined to teach myself to make croissants, and how to make laminated dough, which isn’t really the easiest feat for somebody to sit around and practice, but those were a couple of my first pastry things that I experimented and did for fun.

What was it that brought you to Costa Rica?

I had had a lot of careers and I had worked in restaurants from when I was 12 years old, summer jobs, all the way through high school. I started washing dishes, then I was a prep cook and food runner, waitress, hostess, busser, manager, pretty much any job from front and back of house that you can ever imagine, I worked it. It was after I went from back to front and in the front of the house and worked with people, I swore off the restaurant industry forever. I was like, people are mean and cruel, and I don’t have the patience to put up with them. It was just horrible, and such hard work. So I swore off the restaurant industry and fell into a career of modeling and working in fashion. I had the same experience with that, and kind of had enough. It was just a very catty lifestyle, and very superficial, and wasn’t very wholesome, and didn’t fulfill me very much, so I sort of went AWOL, and some girlfriends were just like, “Oh, let’s take a vacation, let’s take a trip. My parents have a timeshare in Costa Rica. Let’s go on a surf trip, a vacation, just a girls’ trip.” So we went on vacation and I had no job and didn’t know what I was going to do.

I fell in love with Costa Rica. We were there for a week and a half, and I changed my plane ticket and I said, “I’m staying.” They sort of looked at me like I was crazy – “What?” – and I said, “I’m staying. I already changed my ticket, and I’m going to stay for two weeks and hang out.” They’re like, “Are you crazy? You don’t even speak Spanish and you don’t know anybody here.” I’m like, “I don’t know, I love it here.” So I stayed, and then I came back and pretty much sold all my stuff, put the rest in storage and moved down there.

I went to language school for a month just learning to speak Spanish, and I traveled around Central and South America by myself, surfing and eating some of the most amazing food and meals I’ve ever had in my life. I met up with some people who were chefs – American and Canadian – who were living in this small town in Costa Rica, and decided that was where I wanted to set up camp and call home base. I was living down there and was like, “Well, now what? I’m here, I love it here, I want a job, what am I going to do?” Somebody had said – I’d had some of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had in my life. Everything is so fresh and organic, and there were all these young professional chefs from New York, Chicago, Canada – wherever – San Diego – that just sort of had the same mentality, just said, “Screw it all, I’m going to live down here and open restaurants and work at hotels.” I was just blown away and said, “I want a piece of that.” What’s going to be my realm?…I love and am obsessed with coffee, and Costa Rica’s known for coffee, and you couldn’t get a decent cup of coffee to save your life. Sitting in the middle of the jungle, they brewed coffee out of a sock. So this businesswoman came up to me and said, “You know what this town needs? It needs a great little bakery/coffee shop.” I was like, “I will do it.” Everybody didn’t really believe me, but when I get determined and sort of have my eyes on the prize, there’s no stopping me.

I found a location, and found architects, and designed and built a kitchen and built up the space, and just started cooking, and testing recipes for cookies and baked goods and everything down there, I basically had to learn how to make all over again, because everything is different, the ingredients, the temperature, the humidity, so I just spent weeks perfecting recipes that worked with their products, and their butter, and their eggs, and the heat and humidity and everything. It started out, I was going to open up a little bakery and coffee shop, and have a few little breakfast-y items, and maybe a couple salads. It was things that I wanted to eat and have available down there that you couldn’t really get. And right out of the gate, it was such a success and took off so well that it just turned into this full-on breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was a restaurant. We opened at 6 o’clock in the morning and closed at 10, 11 o’clock at night. And I found myself doing all the cooking, savory, baking, I did all of it. And I loved it, and it was a huge success. And I went into it, sort of with this attitude, I know I’m not going to make a lot of money opening a restaurant in the middle of the jungle, but I just wanted it to be a home away from home for people. And that’s exactly what it was. People would come morning, noon and night, sit and hang out, come and have coffee on their way to go surfing, have lunch, go home and change and come back for dinner, and it was just this very – tourists would come there every day and just make a point to say bye to me on their way leaving town. It was just this really loving, fun, community-driven sort of restaurant.

You called your cafe Sugar Mami?

It was called Sugar Mami’s Café. Kind of the joke started because I was testing all these recipes and making all these sweets and kind of supplying it to everyone in town. They would come over and be like, “What are you making today?” It was like, “Oh you’re the sugar mama of town,” so it was called Sugar Mami’s.

What was the name of the town?

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. Oddly enough, I got written up in great interviews and articles, and we had a lot of celebrities. Matthew McConaughey came and frequented the place, and Gisele Bundchen ended up showing up, falling in love with the town and building a house there. So we did a lot of catering for her and special needs for her special dietary needs, and cooking for her as well, which was funny, being in L.A., and finding that lifestyle even in the middle of the jungle, but it was from doing both the savory and sweet that I realized that pastry is my passion, and that’s what drove me, and that was more my speed and mentality. So that’s when I decided to sell the restaurant, and come back to Los Angeles and go to school to study pastry more. I had the kitchen background and knowledge, but it was more the science side of it, because pastry is very precise, and it’s exact, and it’s a science. Why you can take flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and depending on how you combine them, you get so many different results. So I did a year pastry program at the Art Institute of Los Angeles in Santa Monica.

Did you get what you wanted out of your culinary school experience?



Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

I really liked Waylynn until the “white trash dip” comment. Seriously, Waylynn, you make donuts for a living? Be nice and classy!!

[…] Twitter: @waylynnlucas Waylynn Lucas on Facebook: Fonuts website Waylynn Lucas interview with Food GPS (Includes extensive background info) Waylynn Lucas Q&A with Dining Diaries – Waylynn […]

Leave a Comment