As a child, Monique Chan rarely ate sweets. Growing up in San Marino with a father who was a doctor, Chan and her three older siblings always ate healthy.
But during the holidays when she was 5, Chan became so fascinated with images of Christmas cookies from a recipe book that she memorized every page. It wasn’t until middle school that Chan baked for the first time, making pumpkin bread with her sister for Thanksgiving.
Now her childhood passion has turned into a local online business — which she hopes to turn into a brick-and-mortar enterprise sometime next year.
“I realized that baking was always the first reaction that I had to any sort of environmental stressor, be it a test or anxiety regarding something else,” said Chan, who began to consider baking professionally during her freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis, following her graduation from Polytechnic School in Pasadena in 2009.
“It was the one thing I wanted to get out of bed for on a Saturday morning.”
While studying abroad in Rome during her junior year of college, Chan got her first taste of professional baking during a three-month internship at a local bakery. That confirmed her plans to pursue it as a career.
“I’ll never forget how it felt to walk in there at five in the morning to start baking at the break of dawn,” Chan recalled. “I was working 13 hours a day on my own volition, smelling the butter in the air and covered up to my elbows in chocolate. It just felt like I was doing what my body was created to do.’’
After completing her university studies, Chan moved to Paris in 2013 and enrolled in École Grégoire-Ferrandi Pastry School. During the year-long program, she learned all about French pastry-making, kitchen chemistry and the logistics of running a business.
Upon graduating — as valedictorian of her pastry school — she stayed in Paris and worked for six months under Chef Yann Couvreur at Prince de Galles, a five-star hotel. Next, she went on to work at Le Bristol Paris, a palace hotel rated higher than five stars, with Laurent Jeannin, one of the great pastry chefs.
After her stint in Paris, Chan moved to Napa Valley in 2015 to work at The French Laundry, a three Michelin Star French restaurant owned by renowned chef Thomas Keller. She worked under the head pastry chef for two years, then moved back to Los Angeles for a few months to work with pastry chef and Cronut creator Dominique Ansel at his bakery. In 2018, Chan headed to Hong Kong to take on the role of pastry sous chef at a new restaurant called Écriture.
The decision was partially inspired by the fact that her family is originally from there.
“We’d always go on family vacations but I wanted to go back and experience it on my own terms as an adult,” Chan said. “A chef I knew referred me to Chef Maxime Gilbert, who was opening a French fine dining restaurant in Hong Kong. Within seven months, the restaurant received two Michelin stars, which is unheard of. Usually it takes years to earn them, but it was his lifelong dream to have a Michelin star restaurant. It wasn’t just about the food — everything from the linens and ceramics to the way service staff approached guests had to be a certain way.”
While in Hong Kong, Chan began to think more about starting a creative venture of her own, so after a year at Écriture she moved back home to San Marino this past September. She launched Instagram (@thechezmomo) and YouTube (therealchezmomo) channels, on which Chan regularly shares tutorials and special behind-the-scenes footage of her creations that she makes for special occasions and events.
Chan also has an upcoming holiday baking collaboration with South Pasadena-based influencer Leslie Saeta, and starting Nov. 15, she will be taking Thanksgiving pie orders at the Holiday Boutique for Valentine Elementary School at San Marino Community Church.
Her pie offerings will include pumpkin pecan brulee, ube with salted coconut cream persimmon space, and apples sautéed with brandy — although all flavors and designs can be customized.
“The mission behind my style of pastry, besides uniting classical French technique with both Asian and American flavors, is to bridge the sizable gap in creativity, innovation and finesse that exists between the pastry in gastronomy and dining and the pastry from a typically humbler bakery setting,” Chan said.
Chan said she is planning to open a brick-and-mortar location in either Pasadena or South Pasadena sometime next year, tentatively. But her goal isn’t simply to make money and became well-known — helping others is also very important to Chan, who participated in a sandwich ministry at her church in Paris and Campus Kitchen in college.
“The ultimate goal is to incorporate a business that will be successful enough to have a social impact, whether it’s partnering with establishments to address the homeless situation, donating a certain percentage of profits or organizing food handouts,” she said. “The point of having a successful business is to help others in need, at least for me that’s the end goal — all of this is just a way to get there.”
For more information, visit therealchezmomo.com.