Take Five with Pastry Chef Guillermo Soto Torres of the Four Seasons Silicon Valley
It’s a good bet that Guillermo Soto Torres is one of the few — if not only — pastry chefs in the Bay Area with a degree in telematics, the interdisciplinary field that combines telecommunications, vehicular technologies, electrical engineering, and computer science.
He had hardly stepped foot into that scientific career, though, when he made a major pivot to use his knack for precision in a whole different way. He started working in a chocolate shop in his native Mexico, then began studying baking books. It wasn’t long before he jumped full bore into pastry making about 15 years ago.
That led to stints at Four Seasons hotels in Costa Rica and Florida, before coming two years ago to the Four Seasons Silicon Valley in East Palo Alto to become head pastry chef.
Earlier this week, the 36-year-old chef invited me and two other media colleagues into his hotel kitchen to watch and learn as he made what will be the stunning centerpiece dessert for Christmas Eve dinner and the Christmas Day buffet — the buche de Noel.
His version of the classic French yule log cake is comprised of a flourless chocolate cake on a base of crispy hazelnut feuilletine (crunchy crepe shards) that’s rolled around chestnut cream and an anise-flavored orange compote before it’s all enrobed in shiny white chocolate glaze and holiday garnishes. To serve all the expected guests on those two days, he will make 100 of them.
He talked about his favorite ingredient to work with, the one that’s he’s allergic to, the one dessert he could eat every single day, and the rather ill-fated day that he began working at the Silicon Valley hotel.
Q: You started work here in 2020?
A: Yes, I came here on March 16, 2020 from the Four Seasons in Orlando. I will never forget that day. It’s when everything shut down here. I ended up going back to Florida for 10 months to work, then to Washington, D.C. Finally, I came back here in July 2021.
During the pandemic for fun and to keep busy, I started baking pies for friends for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They started telling their friends in their apartment buildings, and I ended up baking 250 pies for everyone. It got so crazy that I had to rent a commercial kitchen to bake them all.
Q: You never get tired of baking, even in your free time?
A: No. Last January, I even went to stage at the French Laundry for five days. The level of precision there is just incredible.
Q: How did you become a pastry chef? Did you grow up baking with your mother?
A: I cooked with her, but I never baked with her. I started reading pastry books and saw how you have to be so precise and perfect. I had always wanted to be a graphic designer or architect. Pastry making combines both. It is everything I want to do in one career.
Q: Is your Mexican heritage reflected in any of your desserts?
A: I’ve created edible Mexican pinatas, filled with Mexican candies inside. Mexicans love the combination of fruit and chile, so I’ve used Tajin to flavor pate de fruit.
Q: If you could pick only one, which dessert could you eat every single day?
A: When I was growing up in Mexico, my mom would take me to a bakery once a week. I couldn’t wait. I would always have a strawberry tart. It’s just three components: pastry cream strawberries, and a crust. It’s just so good.
Q: What’s your favorite ingredient to use?
A: Raspberries. If you go to my Instagram, you will see raspberries everywhere.
Q: What ingredient don’t you like?
A: Vinegar. It has such a strong smell. I can eat it, but I don’t like how it smells.
Q: You’re allergic to a certain ingredient that severely irritates your tongue?
A: Yes, pineapple, which was challenging when working in Costa Rica. I could taste it, but not eat a lot of it.
Q: You said that it was also challenging to work in Costa Rica because of the climate and the fact that it would take so long to get items delivered. Can you give an example?
A: It’s so humid there. To keep tuilles and meringues crisp, we would have to put silica gel packets — like the kind you get in cracker and chip packages here — inside tightly sealed container with them.
You also had to get creative because you couldn’t always get what you needed quickly. Like for this buche de Noel, if we didn’t have the exact mold, we would use PVC pipe to roll the cake around it.
Q: Do you actually eat dessert every day?
A: Yes. That’s why I run 3 to 5 miles a day. (laughs)
Q: What new pastries or desserts can visitors to the hotel look forward to next year?
A: For guests who stay with us during Lunar New Year, we will send to their rooms a “lucky red envelope” made out of sugar cookie dough that holds chocolate coins inside. For Pride month, we will feature a lot of rainbow items, including a stack of mini rainbow pancakes.
And in March for Women’s History Month, we will do a special afternoon tea that will have macarons, raspberry-pistachio tarts, orange-cranberry scones, and gin & violet scones.
Q: Lastly, a loaded question: Who has more skills — a pastry chef or a savory chef?
A: A pastry chef! Because a pastry chef can cook, but a savory chef cannot bake. (laughs) In fact, for two months in the mornings, I was also the executive sous chef here.