Meet Jamie Cantor, chef and owner of the Los Angeles bakery Platine. A passionate baker since childhood, Jamie honed her pastry skills at Thomas Keller’s famed French Laundry before starting a business of her own, specializing in sophisticated, baked-from-scratch take on classic treats. Here, we ask her all about how she got started, her favorite things to bake, and why she can’t imagine doing anything else.
Tell us about your background and how you got started baking.
First, family celebrations always were centered around food. The women in our family would gather together to prepare huge meals at holidays, and this is a great memory for me. Everything was made from scratch, ALWAYS. You could never find a bake mix in our house or either of my grandmother’s homes. So I grew up with a love of food and a love for making people happy through food.
Second – I think it is genetics – I have a huge sweet tooth and so does everyone on both sides of my family, so it was inevitable that I centered my life around sweets.
Working there was definitely the most formative experience of my career. I learned so much about how to be organized, and how to work with your staff, and how to be both a good business person and a good chef at the same time. I learned a ton about tasting and food combinations.
When I worked there the “sweet and salty” trend that is so popular now was not around. Stephen Durfee (the pastry chef at the time I worked there) taught me that salt is one of the most important ingredients in baking – not just because it makes things salty, but because it brings out the flavors of the other ingredients. Stephen was also trained in both sweet and savory cooking, like I am, so it was a good learning experience to see how he applied savory cooking techniques to pastry. Since I worked the pastry station, I often had a good hour or so from the time I was finished with my prep to the time that the first dessert went out. I would take that time to watch and listen to the other cooks in the kitchen who put out the savory food, and I tried to help them as much as possible.
I also learned a lot about using seasonal ingredients in building a menu. One of the great parts about working at The French Laundry was that we got incredible produce – a farmer would come by and drop off a case of perfect peaches or strawberries, or something else, and Chef would tell Stephen to create a great dessert from them for that night’s menu. There was always something wonderful that came from those deliveries. I use that a lot at Platine – we change our menu a little bit every day. I don’t think most bakeries do that. I like to see what is available or what is good at the market and build the menu around that. It keeps it interesting for us and for our customers.
What’s the story behind Platine? Why the name?
When I was a little girl I wanted to have my own restaurant. I had a vision for it, a name, and even a logo. As I got older, I realized that what I really love is sweets, and that working at a restaurant makes family life quite challenging. So, years later, after gaining experience in all areas of food service, I decided it was time to start my own business and focused on sweets.
When I was ready to begin and create my brand, I looked up the name “platinum” to see if there were any other businesses in the LA area with that name, as it had always been my vision for the business. I was truly saddened to learn that the name was already taken and I had to go back to the drawing board. I bounced some ideas around, and then, one day I was talking to my mom about the business. I was a French major in college, so she just asked me how do you say platinum in French? The answer: platine.
What were some of the biggest challenges of opening your own bakery? Rewards?
I find the biggest challenge is sometimes also the biggest reward: every day is a new learning experience. It is true – each day I face a new challenge, or new problem, or something that I have to figure out. This is what keeps me energized – no two days are the same. But, at the same time, it is exhausting trying to always be solving problems.
I love to create new products and think of new ways that we can expand our brand. Owning my own bakery gives me great freedom – I have the power to create a new product, and it is really rewarding to see the reactions of our clients when we roll out something new. It also gives me freedom in my personal life; I have an amazing team, whom I rely on greatly. That allows me to come and go as needed and make my own schedule. I work really hard, but I always know that if I need to be at home or at a meeting, I can trust my staff to take care of things and keep the integrity of our brand.
Describe the space where you work. What do you love about it?
The bakery is situated on a busy commercial street. We have a very small retail space in front, a large production area behind that, and my office and packaging area upstairs. We have two huge glass windows in front, so they let in a lot of light. We designed the retail space in such a way that it is very open. People walk in and can see right into the production area. This was important for me, as I wanted people to see that everything is made by hand, from scratch – no mixes and no shortcuts. I love the light we get; it helps to give the bakery the open and airy feeling. I also love that my office is upstairs. I run up and down those stairs countless times a day, and that enables me to have a few extra cookies each day!
Our tagline is “a sophisticated twist on old favorites.” We make everything from scratch, by hand, in small batches, with all natural ingredients.s It is important to me that everything have balance in both flavor and texture. I have taken a lot of the sweets I enjoyed as a child and put my own twist on them to elevate them. For example, we describe our Brown Butter/Dark Chocolate/Smoked Salt cookie as the grown-up version of the chocolate chip cookie. I took my favorite cookie and added some more grown-up flavors to make the cookie more sophisticated — but also a really delicious cookie.
At Platine, we like to think we are unique in the Los Angeles area because we provide handmade, high-quality baked goods and sweets with a bit of whimsy. We love to experiment and try to be on the forefront of new trends, not the followers.
How do you come up with new recipes and products?
It is hard to say; I don’t really have a particular method. I always say, “It isn’t that I invented the chocolate chip cookie – I just took the characteristics that I love in a cookie and combined them to make them my own.”
Sometimes recipes come to me when I am at the market, or at a museum, or when I taste something that I really like. Sometimes ideas come when we need to fill a void. Is there a holiday coming up, or do we have tons of fruit ripening that we need to use up? A lot of times inspiration comes from my childhood – I really loved to eat X when I was little; how can I make it better?
You’ve said cookies are your favorite thing to make. Why?
Again, it all goes back to family. I used to make cookies all the time when I was little. Family lore is that my first word was “cookie.” I started baking with my mom when I was little and probably started mixing my own batches before I was 10. Cookies were my favorite thing to make then. Even in college, I always had scoops of homemade cookie dough in my freezer. I think it is about comfort. I love to eat sweets, and I love to make others happy when they eat something I have made.
What are your favorite Platine pastries to eat and share? Customer favorites?
For me, it depends on the day! Every day I find that I want to eat something different. Recently, I have been really into our cheesecakes. I love playing with all the different flavors and textures and, since the cakes are larger than our usual desserts, I can come back for more and more.
Some of our best sellers are the Warm Chocolate Pots (another dessert from my childhood that I am so excited to bring back), our platinos and camées (our version of an OREO and a vanilla OREO), and our granola. The granola is a recipe borrowed from one of my best friends from pastry school. I loved to take a big bag home every time I visited her. We have carried on her tradition, and now that granola is one of our bestsellers.
If you weren’t a baker, what else would you be doing?
I would be sleeping! Seriously, I think I would be teaching cooking classes. I love to show people proper technique and help them to demystify cooking and baking. I have never had a traditional “desk job.” I have always worked in restaurants, bakeries, hotels, etc., and I have always know that I wanted to be a chef. I can’t imagine doing something that didn’t somehow involve food.