Pastry Chef Luis Villavelazquez Joins La Victoria for Pan Dulce Upgrade

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Kevin Y./Yelp
With the help of pastry chef Luis Villavelazquez, the 60-year-old panaderia on 24th Street will soon begin modernizing its pan dulce.
​In a move that could remake San Francisco's notion of pan dulce ― Mexican sweet rolls ― pastry chef Luis Villavelazquez is working with Mission panaderia La Victoria to modernize the baking program at the 60-year-old bakery and cafe.

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Meredith Brody
Villavelazquez at Ferry Plaza in October 2009.
​Last week, Villavelazquez began doing production for Les Elements in La Victoria's commissary kitchen. This week he starts working with the La Victoria staff to improve their pan dulce techniques and introduce new, higher-quality ingredients, all, he says, without straying too far from panaderia tradition. Villavelazquez tells SFoodie he'll start shadowing the bakers' shift ― 2 a.m.-2 p.m. ― to work with 30-year La Victoria vets Raul Vasquez and Lorenzo Castro on teaching new techniques, though Villavelazquez himself plans to make fillings and more intricate items.

"The hardest part will be to show them I have the same amount of skills that they do, and at the same time I have to trust them, and they have to trust me," says Villavelazquez, who recalls going to La Victoria as a kid, nibbling on cookies and conchas.

Villavelazquez was an intern at Elizabeth Falkner's Citizen Cake, eventually working his way up to pastry sous chef. He made the leap to Orson, before taking over the pastry program at Absinthe and its sister, Arlequin Cafe. Last fall, he struck out on his own with Les Elements Patisserie, which sets up a stall at the Thursday and Saturday Ferry Plaza farmers' markets. He's also been signing up wholesale clients, including Tcho, where he's begun making pastries for its Beta Store on the Embarcadero.

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Daniel L./Yelp
​On Monday, Villavelazquez plans to begin offering his first pastry in the La Victoria case, a prickly pear- and chocolate-filled profiterole. He'll introduce new items every few days or so; La Victoria's pan dulce line should start to change in about a month. Some things, like conchas, will get subtle tweaks ― vanilla-sugar topping, say. Or they'll shift to more upscale ingredients, Tcho chocolate rather than Ghirardelli, for instance.

Other items, says La Victoria's Jaime Maldonado, will see more dramatic changes. Croissants will morph from the Mexican cuerno feite, to the flakier French style ― some filled with dulce de leche ― and there'll be more tropical fruit fillings, too. "French technique, Latin technique ― it's going to be a melding of flavors and styles, a new way of looking at things," Maldonado says. Plans also call for rethinking the pastry cases, which double as La Victoria's window displays.

Modernization has long been a goal for Maldonado, who took over the business from his dad in 1992. Last year he said this to SFoodie's Jonathan Kauffman: "My next step is to bring in a pastry chef, someone with some notoriety who says, 'I see what this guy is doing, I like what he's doing.' I want to create a new product environment that doesn't alienate the Latin pastries but adds European twists to create nuevo Latino pastries."

Looks like Maldonado found what he's looking for. The question now is, will the neighborhood accept the change, including paying a bit more for pan dulce?

Maldonado's planning to hold the line on prices for most things, which currently range from $.99-$2.50 per piece. "The thing is to do it so we get younger people in the neighborhood more excited without making our regulars mad."

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook. Contact me at John.Birdsall@SFWeekly.com
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5 comments
John Nuno
John Nuno

I hear old time Missionistas cuss and fuss all the time about the changes here, but the fact is many of them no longer live or shop here. I was born and raised in the Mission, but I realize the neighborhood is not a living museum here to satisfy the nostalgia of people who now reside in the East Bay or Sacramento. I'm not a huge fan of gentrification but it's a fact of life that cities all across America are coping with. Yes, they are experimenting with new techniques but Maldonaldo is clear about sticking the core Latin flavor. If you want to criticize, at least try the new panducle product first, rather than arguing about the notions of what is "authentic." The man is running a business that's been around 60 years, and who can criticize him for trying to stick around for another 60 more.

Guest
Guest

The owner is a self hating mexican, i have proof.

MariSF
MariSF

I hope he takes on traditional Mexican baking techniques to mimic what the pan dulce at Bondy or El Cardenal in Mexico City. La Victoria's pan dulce has not been very good for quite a while and I can't understand why they wrap some of their bread in plastic wrap. I think the best and most traditional pan dulce is made at the Royal Bakery in the Excelsior. They might not have fresh pan dulce every day but when they do it beats anything on 24th Street.

mexicanbybirth
mexicanbybirth

What a disaster! Why fix it if it works? Does this guy understand that Mexican bakers took their techniques from the French and made them theirs?Why go back to French again risking loosing its essence? If I want a French croissant I go to Tartine, we don't need another French bakery. Yet another example of the Mission's gentrification.

Isaac Rivas
Isaac Rivas

I think it is great. Mexican culture is all about mixtures and food is just like language, it keeps evolving.

There is nothing wrong with experimentation.

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