About seven years ago, something amazing happened in the little high street area of North 56th Street in Seattle's quaint Tangletown neighborhood (so named because its streets were purposefully laid out in anything but straight lines when it was developed decades ago): Hiroki Inoue opened his small storefront (with tables and chairs in back for in-house dining) and began to provide the world (or at least, Seattle) with dessert excellence, baked on the premises.
Since that time, Hiroki has gone from strength to strength. Today, he prepares desserts for several restaurants around town (including Victrola coffee shops), has been featured in the "Best of Seattle" list of Seattle Magazine, and on the KCTS "Chefs" program. Not exactly an unknown quantity, then, but still a generally exclusive treat, known to neighborhood locals and many of the more discerning sweet-teeth around the city.
While the offerings in the two glass-faced dessert cases rotate, there are several stand-bys that one can generally count on finding every time they visit, including...
...the candy-hued lilikoi haupia (Hawaiian passion fruit-coconut cake).
Hiroki also features seasonal surprises, such as these pumpkin-cream stuffed puff pastries:
On a quiet Saturday early evening, I sat down with Hiroki amidst the orchids and local art that grace his dining area to talk to him about food, faith, the "second smile" and cakes shaped like sports cars.
INTERVIEW WITH HIROKI – OCTOBER 9, 2009
DID YOU STUDY COOKING?
Yes, at the Art Institute of Seattle. I took the culinary program for chefs, not the pastry program.
WHEN DID YOU BEGIN TO COOK PROFESSIONALLY?
When I opened my store here [in Tangletown], so about 7 years ago.
WHY DO YOU HAVE A PASSION FOR DESSERTS?
I like to make people happy by providing them with good food – but it can be hard to do. Many people provide a good meal that can make people smile, and I think desserts can provide a second smile. I like to give the “second smile!”
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DESSERT TO MAKE?
Puff pastry or a baked fruit, something rustic and baked dark in the European style.
YOU SEEM TO HAVE A REAL ATTENTION TO THE BEAUTY OF YOUR FOOD. DO YOU CONSCIOUSLY TRY TO CONVEY A CONCEPT OF BEAUTY IN YOUR FOOD?
I don’t really think about it too much – it tends to come naturally because I like simple beauty….clean and sophisticated. You won’t find me making a cake decorated with dinosaurs or shaped like a sports car.
WHAT WAS THE MOST PRODUCTIVE “ACCIDENT” YOU EVER HAD?
Once, one of my team forgot the baking powder in a lavender cake, and it came out very dense…too dense to sell on its own. But we found that, in slices, it worked very well with the chiffon roll cakes; its texture was the perfect compliment to the cream filling.
WHAT WAS THE SMARTEST BUSINESS DECISION YOU EVER MADE?
Staying small, staying local. This allows me to have the quality control I require. Having personal relationships with my customers and being seen as a neighbor brings people back to my shop.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE NON-DESSERT FOOD?
Pasta, but I cannot eat it anymore because I have a gluten allergy. Really, I love anything Italian.
YOUR BUDDHISM IS IMPORTANT TO YOU – HOW DOES YOUR FAITH INFLUENCE YOUR FOOD AND YOUR BUSINESS?
I think it drives me to see the shop as more than a business. I want people to come to me, to talk with me, to interact with them. And I always try to show compassion to all my customers. You know, I have faith in good people…because good people bring more good people. I have been lucky because I have only had good customers.
IS IT CORRECT TO SAY THAT YOUR CULINARY INFLUENCES ARE GENERALLY FRENCH AND ASIAN?
Yes, some of both. But I also bring my own original ideas, so I would say that my cooking is bigger than the sum of its influences.
You can find Hiroki Desserts on the Web here. Even better, you can visit in-person at