Let’s Talk Food: Meet pastry chef Mimi Mendoza

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Dessert with hazelnut caramel, whipped ganache and candied hazelnuts.

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Quick candied hazelnuts

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Cannele de Bourdeaux

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Chef Mimi Mendoza and assistant Malia Nishimura, a Kapiolani Community College student specializing in pastry.

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Pastry chef Mimi Mendoza of Restaurant Senia in Chinatown, Oahu, recently spoke to students in Hawaii Community College’s Culinary Program about how it is working in a restaurant. She also demonstrated the complexities of making several items to build on one dessert.

The students of Hawaii Community College’s Culinary Program were fortunate, thanks to the Hawaii Culinary Education Foundation and its executive director, Hayley Matson-Mathes, to have pastry chef Mimi Mendoza of Restaurant Senia in Chinatown, Oahu, talk to them about how it is working in a restaurant, as well as showing them the complexities of making several items to build on one dessert.

According to Matson-Mathes, “Mimi continues to integrate an artful sensibility into the craft of pastry. Driven by a strong personal style and classic technique, Mimi seeks to bring out the natural, elemental qualities of her dishes, working with ingredients through the lenses of color and flavor. Much of her work is inspired by her travels, childhood memories of flavors and even works of literature, as she remains a writer and an artist at heart.”


Mendoza, with roots on Kauai, was raised in San Francisco and attended the International Culinary Institute of California in Sunnyvale with the intent to become a food writer. An artist and a craftsperson, she used her eye for art to create her desserts.

Chef Mendoza worked as a pastry chef in Los Gatos’ famed Manresa as well as at Chez TJ, a one-star Michelin restaurant in Mountain View, Calif. During that time, she and boyfriend John Shelsta, also a pastry chef, collaborated on several pop-up events.

After coming back to Hawaii for many summers, the islands were calling her back and in September 2016, Mendoza relocated the Senia team for the opening of their restaurant.

Senia is a play on the word “xenia,” which is the ideology of guest-friendships that defined the ancient Greek concept of hospitality. In a time when it was believed gods walked among men, everyone was treated with the same courtesy and generosity.

Assisting Mendoza was Malia Nishimura, a Kapiolani Community College student specializing in pastry. She goes to school full-time and works at Senia with Chef Mimi. What is interesting is her family owns Helena’s Hawaiian Foods. Wow, think of a dessert Nishimura could create using haupia as a base!

Life of a pastry chef is interesting, as they make most of the desserts a day or more ahead. They are not subjected to the fast pace and pressure during meal service. Many of the cooks and chefs “run” to the pastry section to catch their breath and oftentimes to vent. Chef Mimi feels like a psychiatrist at times, advising fellow workers and comforting them.

The first dessert she made was a very complicated dessert, Cannele de Bordeaux. A cannele is a small French pastry flavored with rum and vanilla with a soft and tender custard center and dark, thick caramelized crust. A special copper mold will yield the best result and costs between $20 and $30 each mold. Each mold is filled with an equal mixture of warmed butter and beeswax, then immediately dumped out to coat the inside of the mold. The dough must be made at least 24 hours prior to baking, ideally 48 hours, to remove all air bubbles.

Mendoza made candied hazelnuts as part of a dessert.

Quick Candied Hazelnuts

30 grams (or less) egg white (use only enough to just coat)

100 grams granulated sugar

2 cups hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and whole

Salt to taste

In a clean bowl, whip egg whites until foamy.

In a separate bowl, fold egg whites into hazelnuts. They should be just barely coated, no excess egg whites.

Add enough sugar to coat hazelnuts so they separate into individual nuts. Season with salt.

Spread onto silicone lined sheet pan.

Bake 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees or until the egg whites have dried.

Store in desiccant in airtight container.

• • •

Chef Mimi tries to use local products whenever possible, such as locally sourced honey and vanilla beans to make this hazelnut caramel.

Hazelnut Caramel

100 grams honey

200 grams granulated sugar

100 grams butter

150 grams heavy whipping cream

110 grams hazelnut praline (this recipe was not shared with us)

1 vanilla pod, scraped

Heat honey and scraped vanilla bean in a pot. Once liquid is hot, stir in sugar.

Caramelize till light brown.

Add butter.

Add cream in three parts.

Boil for a minimum of 5 minutes.

Using a hand blender, incorporate hazelnut praline.

• • •

Valrhona chocolates are her choice and she loves working with Valrhona Passionfruit Inspiration to make a whipped ganache. Couverture has the qualities of chocolate, has no cocoa solids and does not need to be tempered. She also noted that when making a dessert with lilikoi, she does not add salt as it changes the flavors of the lilikoi and makes it taste artificial. Chef Mimi also noted that using glucose in a ganache makes the finished product more viscous.

Whipped Ganache

220 grams Valrhona Passionfruit Inspiration

22 grams glucose

600 grams heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, scraped

Plan to make these 24 hours in advance. The ganache works best when it is allowed to sit overnight and crystallize for a minimum of 24 hours.

In a dry container, partially melt the chocolate.

In a saucepan, gently heat 2/3 of the cream, glucose and vanilla scrapes. Do not boil.

In two parts, emulsify warm cream mixture into your chocolate using a whisk or a spatula.

Emulsify the last third of the cold cream into your ganache and finish with a hand blender.

Cool in a half pan overnight.

When ready to use, whip in a mixer at medium speed.

Foodie bites

Pick up for your Thanksgiving pumpkin pies at Hawaii Community College is 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27. They will accept cash or credit cards, but no checks, and do not forget to bring your own bag or box to carry out the pies. If you have not already ordered, call 934-2559.

The Cafeteria is open from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. with daily specials. Call 934-2559 for takeout orders.


The American Culinary Federation (ACF) Kona Kohala Chefs Association’s Christmas with the Chefs is from 5:30-8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, on the seaside grounds of Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. Tickets are $90 and sold online at www.konakohalachefs.org. The hotel is also offering a special rate of $169 plus tax.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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