On July 27, Philadelphians have an opportunity for a baked-good binge of fairly epic proportions — and one with a pretty sweet upside, too. It’s the Philly edition of Bakers Box, a months-old endeavor from restaurant-world veteran Arnold Byun that spotlights and supports the local Asian American Pacific Islander community.
Byun, who is based in New York and L.A., tapped Philly’s hive mind to curate a lineup of local bakers from West Philly to North Wales who will contribute one dessert apiece to create an assemblage of 18 sweets. It’s the fifth edition of Bakers Box, which Byun launched this spring in L.A. and which heads to D.C., San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle next.
“We had an open call on Instagram and said, ‘Hey, for followers in Philadelphia, please let us know who you want to see in our box,’” said Byun, who also hosts an AAPI/food industry-focused podcast called With Warm Welcome. The callout process helped him find talent both “established and emerging,” resulting in a uniquely fresh mix of makers, from Shane Confectionery alum Davina Soondrum to dedicated dabblers like soon-to-be-med-student Grace Lee.
The $100 package comes in two handmade wooden boxes with nine compartments each. Byun was using the Japanese boxes for a previous project and decided to repurpose them in March, when he wanted to celebrate both women and Asian Americans during Women’s History Month. (Ten percent of proceeds from the Philly edition will go to Callowhill-based Asian Americans United.)
Byun’s first restaurant job was as a dishwasher at his family’s restaurant in Korea, but he’s worked front and back of house at Michelin-starred destinations like Eleven Madison Park and Atomix.
He had noticed a trend: “At least in New York City, I would look at the pastry team, and there’s a lot of Asian females in pastry,” he said. “And during the pandemic, we saw a lot of people — a lot of sous chefs, a lot of chefs that were second, third fiddle — starting their own quote-unquote companies, a.k.a. Instagram pages dedicated to bake sales.”
Thus was born Bakers Box. Byun decided to double the number of boxes in an order because “nine wasn’t exciting enough.” As a bonus, “eight is actually a pretty lucky number in Asian culture,” he notes. Each box also features two custom illustrations that depict the baked goods inside. It’s like the guide you might find inside a box of Godiva, but hand-drawn and collectible.
“Honestly, those are usually my favorite parts about a nice chocolate box — the illustrations. So we do the same thing,” Byun said. The back of each illustrated card features the bakers’ names and their desserts, and a QR code leads customers to full ingredient lists as well as the bakers’ stories.
Eighteen desserts in one package might daunt even the most flake-hungry pastry hound, but that’s yet another feature of the box’s design: “It’s the perfect medium: It’s not too small, it’s not too big. It’s just big enough where you can share with a friend or even a few friends. And that’s what we actually wanted, [for] this to be a communal experience,” Byun said. “Of course, if you want to enjoy it all by yourself, by all means.”
With Warm Welcome will assemble 100 orders in all, half of which are already spoken for. The box is available by preordered pickup only at Fork (306 Market St.) on Tuesday, July 27 between noon and 4 p.m. Order soon at exploretock.com/withwarmwelcome.
Here’s a sampling of what to expect:
ICI Macarons: Michael and Aici Tan have operated their Old City patisserie on Arch Street since 2015, selling up to 26 flavors of the classic French confection. Expect the Bakers Box iteration to be tinged with orange blossom.
Park Ave Cake: Drexel grad and pastry chef Angela Park specializes in custom cakes but has a flair for macarons, ice pops, and cake pops, too. She’ll be contributing lavender and honeycomb shortbread sandwich cookies.
Leukos Cookies: Haeseon Kim is a self-described part-time nurse practitioner and full-time wife and mother who somehow manages time to make impeccably decorated cookies. She’s chipping in a lemony sugar cookie that will no doubt be gorgeous.
Janette’s Cupcakes: Australian-born cake artist Janette Tam is firm: Buttercream only, no fondant. She’s baking up matcha cupcakes with sakura buttercream.
Moonflour Bake Shop: Samantha Lam’s web-based bakery — which specializes in custom cookies and cupcakes — is on break till August, but she’s still chipping in ube crinkles, which promise to be soft, fluffy, chewy, and purple.
Leta’s Baking: Self-taught baker Leta Phean fuses French and Asian influences in her sweets. She’s making chewy chocolate-matcha brownies.
Fitz and Starts: South Philly native and seasoned pastry chef Nhi Lam is behind the coconut-pandan cakes that the Queen Village cafe will contribute to the Bakers Box.
Pjama Bakes: Filipino American baker Pauline Dziama will add a sweet-savory punch to the box with her ube-cheese pandesal, a sharp cheddar-stuffed ube bun rolled in sourdough breadcrumbs.