• Ethan Benge

Chefs on CHB: The Chef with a Vegan Pie Option

Updated: Jul 10

If you don't already know who Lauren Ko is, she is a self-taught baker and artist. She runs a popular Instagram account called @lokokitchen, where she inspires other bakes with beautifully crafted geometric pies.

Crunchy Health Blog had an amazing opportunity to recently speak with Lauren and get to know her. We interview her and found out about her background, how she started Lokokitchen, and about her new book coming out.

Here is what she had to say:

How and where did you learn your art of pastry? Your specialty is pies with geometric designs, what drew you to that design style?

I come from a family of phenomenal eaters and had the privilege of growing up surrounded by delicious food. I grew up cooking and baking with my grandmother and mother, but in my Chinese-Honduran-American family, there wasn't any traditional American apple pie. I don't recall anyone ever making a pie.

My professional background is in social work and nonprofit administration, and I have no professional pastry, culinary, or design training. I’m a self-taught hobbyist home baker who simply learned by watching my family and by doing.

For the majority of my adult life, my culinary exposure was limited to cooking dinner for my family and baking things like blueberry muffins and chocolate chip cookies to share with my friends and neighbors.

Then I moved to Seattle in 2016. While looking for a job, I was blooping around on the internet and stumbled across some beautiful pictures of pies that made me think, "huh! I've never made a pie! I wonder if I could do that." But the pies that I saw by people like Julie Jones and Jo Harrington were ornate with lots of floral and foliage cutouts. They were beautiful but not my personal or preferred aesthetic.

I tend to gravitate towards more modern design with clean lines and sharp angles, and I didn’t see anyone doing that in the pie world. So I started experimenting just for fun. I made my first pie that summer and it turned out...fine. It didn't change my life, and pie was simply something I added to my arsenal of things I baked for fun on the weekends.

Over the following year, I baked pies here and there when I found time, using dough and filling recipes found online. Honestly, I saw myself more as an artist first and foremost; it just so happened that my medium with edible pie dough!

In August of 2017, I started my @lokokitchen Instagram account on a lark. I had no intention for it to be anything besides a personal photo album of things I was cooking and baking for fun in my home kitchen--muffins, cookies, summer salads, and yes, the occasional pie. I felt like I was becoming *that* friend and putting too many food photos in my personal account and wanted to separate the images.

It just so happened that the first image I posted was a pie. It went viral almost immediately, and the rest is history. I’m now a “full-time pie lady,” but still learning as I go.

Innovation in pastry and trends evolve and eventually become mainstream. Do you see geometric pastries becoming the next mainstream trend?

I think geometric pastries have already become a mainstream trend. Ever since my Instagram account went viral in 2017 and my design aesthetic featured in various media, I’ve seen a profusion of professional chefs, other Instagram pie accounts, and fellow home bakers replicate my designs or infuse their work with a geometric aesthetic.

I’ve even received emails from people all over the world who have sewn quilts, made clay sculptures, and built wooden tables inspired by my geometric designs.

What baking trends are you most excited to see home bakers try?

I partnered with the ad agency, BBDO, and their collaboration lab, The Residency NYC, to do a narrative series called #myamericanpie on Instagram. We paired personal stories about cultural heritage and portraits of individuals and families (including mine!) with pie designs inspired by those narratives. We let people tell their own stories in their own words, and I got to create pastry art pieces to further encourage people to reimagine traditional “Americanness.”

We received such an incredible response to the series and were thrilled to see people having conversations about their own experiences as a result and sharing those stories through their own pie creations. I hope that this pairing of personal storytelling and pastry continues as a way to dialogue and encourage people to think outside of the box.

You’ve built quite the Instagram following over the years. What advice do you have for other bakers trying to create a following on social media?

There is so much content out there. I encourage people to find their own niche. Branch out, do something different, hone your aesthetic, and present it in a way that distinguishes you from the crowd.

And I know there is a lot of talk about “authenticity” on social media, and for all the ways that that conversation can fall short, I really believe that being yourself is best. Even through the veneer of social media, people can generally gauge if what and how you present yourself and your work are genuine, and they’ll respond most strongly when you are being interactive and real.

CHB is excited to share your vegan pie recipe, Vegan Black Sesame Tart with Dragon Fruit Herringbone. Can you tell us your inspiration for creating a vegan pie and if we will expect to see more in future cookbooks?

My design inspiration often comes from my surrounding environment and things like architecture, textiles, furniture, color. But my creations are also heavily influenced by produce that I have on hand, is in season, and/or on sale at the market.

In this particular instance, I had a number of dates that needed to be used up and a large jar of black tahini in my pantry. I found a recipe from Buffy Ellen of Be Good Organics that called for those two ingredients, and it just so happened to be vegan. I don’t have extensive experience with vegan baking and don’t feature any exclusively vegan recipes in the book, but based on the response to this tart, I definitely hope to explore this further.

You have a new book coming out soon; what are you most excited to share?

I haven’t really shared any of my recipes, techniques, or design tutorials beyond my local workshops, so I’m excited for Pieometry to bring all this information directly into people’s homes and kitchens. Again, I have no professional pastry, culinary, or design training, so I truly believe that if I can make pie art, anyone can.

I’m looking forward to showing that many of my designs look more complicated than they are to execute and that with a bit of time and patience, everyone will be able to bring modern geometric pastry to their own tables.

When can we expect to see your new book hit the shelves?

October 13, 2020!

Thank you, Lauren, for the opportunity to speak with you and find out about your inspiration for Lokokitchen and Piometry. We're excited for your new book to come out!

If you're a chef or baker and would like to be featured in an interview, send us a message.