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Having Your Cake

"Food is something that never, ever gets boring. You’re always going to find something new that excites you. I love learning how to use ingredients and making them into nice, beautiful, nutritious things. We really have such a long-term relationship with food, and it’s never-ending."
- Chef Selvia Tjandra-Stothers

This week, we sat down with Chef Selvia Tjandro-Stothers, pastry chef, food blogger, and baker extraordinaire who delights us here at Mast with her delicious creations. She first joined the Mast family doing recipe testing and developing new and delicious items for the market. It immediately became apparent that her masterful technique was enabling an effortless and artful simplicity to her pastry creations. Currently she is developing a cult like following here for her insanely delicious pies featuring local, seasonal produce and of course our freshly milled flour.

Growing up on Java Island in Indonesia, Selvia took her love of fresh, local ingredients and passion for learning with her to culinary school in New York City, where she then worked for Danny Meyer and carved out her path as a gifted pastry chef. Now, her custom bakes can be enjoyed across Westchester and beyond, from her personal site, to her Hey Mama Kitchen online store which focuses on nourishing new mothers, to our very own market. Selvia is part-artist, part-entrepreneur, part-magician with all of her ongoing projects, all centered around creating fantastic things to eat, and doing it with love.
Enjoy our conversation below.

Chef Selvia Tjandra-Stothers. Photo courtesy of The Mixing Bowl.

Mast Journal: When did your love of baking first take root?

Selvia: I grew up in Indonesia, and my mom used to go to the market and buy all the ingredients to cook for the whole family. So from there, I started to get exposed to cooking. Fast forward to 2001, I came to New York City and went to culinary school, and it just brought back the memories of being with my mom in Indonesia. I started going to farmer’s markets, and going to farms to get the best ingredients to cook with. Now, that’s basically my weekly outing [laughs]. So I love baking, number one, because of the childhood memories. Number two is because I just want to recreate some of the authentic Indonesian desserts that I didn’t find here. So the first cakes that I made were Indonesian cakes, and after that I started to improvise and moved more towards the American dessert culture.

Mast Journal: What brought you to New York?

Selvia: I was young and wanted to explore, and my friends were here already. After attending culinary school, I never went back. I met my husband here, so I built my family here. Now this is home.

Mast Journal: So you immediately started working in the restaurant scene after culinary school?

Selvia: Yes. I worked at Union Square Cafe back in 2006. That was my very first kitchen job. After that, I worked in hotels – the Marriott Essex House in Central Park, and then a bunch of catering companies. My last job was at a private school near Columbus Circle. It was a boarding school – St. Thomas Choir School – and the chef that I worked with was very into farmer-sourced and organic ingredients, so she bought the majority of the ingredients from local farms. I was the pastry chef. That was my last job in the city until they closed down due to Covid in 2020. Then I moved to Northern Westchester, and that’s how I met Mast!

Gorgeous cherry pie by Chef Selvia for Mast Market. Photography by Kate Jordan.

Mast Journal: Could you tell me about your baking project, The Mixing Bowl NYC?

Selvia: Ever since I worked in a pastry kitchen, I started making cakes for family and friends. Then, more and more people would ask if I could make them cakes. So The Mixing Bowl was a side project I always had when I was working other full-time jobs. I created the website in 2020, which was definitely a pandemic project [laughs]. I already had a ton of photos, so I just learned how to build the website.

It continues to be a custom baking service, and I also have clients in the Westchester area, I do dessert catering events, and I partner with small businesses for research and development. That’s what I like to do – creating recipes and building them for other businesses.

Mast Journal: Could you walk me through what a typical day looks like for you as a baker?

Selvia: I have a son so he takes up most of my time. And I mostly stay in the kitchen. I feel like I never leave [laughs]. If I’m not baking for clients, I’m creating recipes and testing. There’s a lot of tweaking and experimenting when putting the recipes together. This isn’t only for dessert – I also do plant-based cooking. Then on the weekends, I like doing everything outdoors. Lots of farmer’s markets.

Mast Journal: Could you tell me about Hey Mama Kitchen? How did that project get started?

Selvia: That got started when I first had my son, so around 2016. As a new mom, I didn’t know anything about breastfeeding. I was really struggling with it, and I realized that new moms just have no energy. They’re stressed and sleep-deprived, but there is such a lack of nutritious snacks. Meanwhile, you have to breastfeed every three hours, especially at night when everyone’s asleep. To keep up your energy, you have to keep eating. It was so hard to find healthier options to keep handy. I started talking to my friend, Caitlin, who I met in a breastfeeding support group, and that’s how we started Hey Mama Kitchen. It’s an online store, and it’s nutritious snacks and sweets for mothers.

Mast Journal: Your cakes are so fun and celebratory. Are you constantly looking for design inspiration, or does that come naturally for you with how colorful and expressive they are?

Selvia: Thank you! I’m constantly learning. My clients are usually the ones who give me the idea, and I just have to bring those ideas to life. It’s custom, so they’ll typically say, ‘I’d love a unicorn cake, can you make that?’ And then I just create what’s in my mind. That’s fun, because there’s still freedom for me to explore. So everything is about learning, every cake is a new learning experience for me. That’s what I enjoy the most. I don’t like making the same thing over and over again. So I don’t always make unicorn cakes [laughs]. Typically, it’s the kids who know exactly what they want. Some adult clients will say, ‘Do what you want–we trust you!’ That’s fun, too.

Custom cake by Chef Selvia. Photo courtesy of The Mixing Bowl.

Mast Journal: Your baking seems so family-oriented and inspired by family. Is it important to you to keep the baking tradition alive?

Selvia: Definitely. My son often helps me when I bake. So he knows what I do, and I like to expose him to different ingredients and how everything is made. I want him to learn the process, and not just be the end consumer [laughs]. Even taking him to the farmer’s market, I want him to learn: this is where your food comes from.

Mast Journal: You’re also interested in zero-waste practices. What inspired that, and what are some of your go-to zero waste methods?

Selvia: Honestly, it was from all the Amazon packages. Those really struck me. I feel like there are just too many boxes, and they’re so wasteful. Boxes within boxes! It drove me crazy. So I started getting really focused on eliminating waste. Bringing my own reusable bags to the supermarket for produce, saving all those glass jars for storage and repurposing, always using your own bags, no plastic bottles. And buying local, especially. I like to implement as many local ingredients as I can. For certain ingredients, it’s harder. But definitely as many plant-based, non-GMO ingredients as I can.

Mast Journal: What’s the most challenging part about what you do?

Selvia: I really do enjoy everything [laughs]. Maybe the most challenging part is balancing – oh, but I don’t like the word balance. Not everything can be balanced! You can’t have 50/50 all the time. It's impossible! But the working from home part, being a mom, having a career, being a wife. That’s all a lot, and everything gets blended together.

Mast Journal: What’s your favorite part about what you do?

Selvia: Number one is that I always learn something new. Food is something that never, ever gets boring. You’re always going to find something new that excites you. I love learning how to use ingredients and making them into nice, beautiful, nutritious things. We really have such a long-term relationship with food, and it’s never-ending.

As for the baking process, my favorite part is decorating. I also really like the act of making the bakes, and then photographing them. I wish I had more time to learn about food photography! That's an entirely different thing in and of itself. One day!

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