“Irvi, this is Melissa! My baker friend I wanted you to meet!”
It’s no surprise here that Yana Gilbuena knows just about everyone there is to know in whatever city you throw her way. I mean, the woman does pop-up dinners all over the world, so it’s a given that she’d introduce me to some amazingly talented people in the food world.
Picture this: me, in the weeds trying to finish up all the food we’re about to serve to the largest guest list I’ve had the pleasure of cooking for. Yana is my calm before the storm, while I’ve mastered the art of being seemingly collected while in my head, I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Thoughts racing like, “Holy crap, EVERYONE is here and ready to sit for this dinner but we’re still scrambling to finish all of these courses, what the fuck do we do?!”
Enter in: Melissa Yanc, Yana’s baker friend that she’s raved about. “You two would really get along,” I briefly remember Yana telling me earlier in the day. Yanc walks right up to me, with this huge smile on her face and offers any assistance throughout the night. And boy, did we need the assistance (or at least I did). Melissa’s good nature and infectious laugh got me through a hectic night and by the time the last of the guest were leaving, we’d already exchanged numbers.
There were late night drinks to be had on my last night in the city and I offered an invite to Melissa, so we could catch up. “Sorry, baker’s hours. I have to be up at five in the morning! Next time, though.” Ah, the life of a baker that lived on the Upper West Side and had to commute down to Brooklyn for work. All the kudos and appreciation for women like her. It was a given that we’d catch up another time.
Little did I know that we’d catch up in a different city, on the West Coast. Since last seeing Melissa in New York, she’s moved back to the West Coast. Settling in as pastry chef of beloved Gjusta in Venice Beach. Life seems to have come full circle for Melissa now.
She’d been baking with her grandma since she was eight and always loved it but hadn’t realized that it could be a career for her until her dad (also he best friend, come on that’s the cutest thing ever) told her that she should pursue cooking. She then moved from California to attend Johnson & Wales in Denver, Colorado. She’s spent time behind the line before moving on to pastry, working at Uncle and pursuing her wholesale business, Sugar Vision, which led to La Fillette. Being such a heavy hitter in Denver, she decided to make a huge career move to New York, becoming the pastry sous chef at Bien Cuit.
While we sat at Gjusta talking about life, she admits that she’s a self-proclaimed science nerd and combining her two loves has made her journey more fun than work. She doesn’t mind the long hours, even when she’s chugging along while confessing that she’s got a bun in the oven (yes, all my friends are having babies and I’m so happy!) and she does it all with pride, while cracking jokes with her staff and that infectious laugh of hers. Can’t wait to see her next time I’m back in Los Angeles.