Dawn is breaking at Living Room Coffee Craft in Campbell, California. The first rays of sunlight are marking their journey through the front glass windows, reflecting off the polished concrete floor to create a bronze glow inside this stylish coffee house. It’ll be an hour before the front doors open for business, but in the kitchen, this is the golden hour for pastry chef, Janet Tang.
From the hot oven, she pulls a sheet pan of caramelized brown butter cakes and picks one up for inspection. She holds it up and rotates it intently, examining all sides for color, firmness, and aroma. A slice of fresh peach peaks through the top, cradled by the buttery cake that surrounds it. Each pastry on this pan must pass Janet’s appraisal before getting the final touch, a dusting of powdered sugar for color and contrast. Like an artist signing a painting, Janet marks each cake and this batch is complete. She then moves them to the glass pastry case on the front counter, next to the other seasonal pastries that Janet bakes each morning.
Janet studied art as an undergrad before going to the French Culinary Institute in Soho, New York, where she discovered her passion for the classic pastry arts. For Janet, baking is the perfect blend of art and science. It requires equal parts of creativity and precision. “You can’t really wing it,” she says with a smile.
After graduating from culinary school, Janet honed her pastry skills for restaurants like Blackbird in Chicago and Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Napa Valley, before moving to Silicon Valley to create delicious treats for the legions of tech workers at Apple and Electronic Arts. But this work didn’t satisfy her desire to express herself through her food. Then she met Michael Shieh, a coffee expert with a culinary background, who shared a similar vision of a cozy, modern cafe that treats pastry and coffee like art.
Her first creation, the Everything Cheese Waffle, is now a signature item at Living Room Coffee Craft. It’s a riff on a classic Brazilian staple, pão de queijo, a warm bread roll made with cheese. Janet reveals the origin of this savory waffle.
“I eat gluten free, but a lot of gluten free foods are not great. I wanted our signature item to be something everyone can experience. I went to a Brazilian steakhouse and the best thing I tried was the pão de queijo. But I felt like it was too much dough, and not enough crisp.” She continues, “The traditional way of making pão is in small rounds, but the waffle allows us to make these to order and maximize the crispiness around the soft, chewy center.”
The waffle’s flavor, and namesake, comes from the everything bagel. It’s one of the things Janet misses most about New York, so she infuses her waffle dough with the flavors of the everything bagel (sesame and poppy seeds, garlic and onion). She also uses tapioca flour to keep this tasty treat free of gluten. The Everything Cheese Waffle is the perfect artistic expression of its creator.
At Living Room Coffee Craft, Janet lets her artistic spirit flourish so that every pastry might reflect a part of her soul. “Food can instantly gratify someone and change their day.” Her desire is that every guest who visits this unique coffee house will experience defining characteristics not commonly found today. Qualities like love, passion, generosity and hospitality should be felt in the ambience, service, coffee, and of course, her delicious pastries.
“Like art, food can move you emotionally,” she says. “A great piece of art can change someone, but the artist doesn’t experience immediate gratification. I enjoy the nurturing aspect of food. It’s more fulfilling to feed someone a meal than have someone say, ‘what a beautiful painting.’ With food, you can instantly satisfy someone and change their day.”