Sweet Elena’s Bakery and Café
Markets: Aptos, Monterey
Products: Freshly baked goods including pizza, quiches, seasonal fruit pies (cherry, ollalieberry, strawberry rhubarb and apple), French galettes, croissants (plain and filled), tarts and mini-tarts (lemon, pecan, ollalieberry and strawberry rhubarb); biscotti, cookies, muffins, pastries and granola.
History/Philosophy: Elena, a French baker,uses the finest ingredients and fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers market to create her many products. A favorite treat for most customers is her signature almond filled croissants — these heavenly pastries are usually still warm from the oven when they arrive at the Aptos Farmers Market on Saturday mornings! Treat yourself and your family to one of her artisan baked pastries or pies at our markets. Special order? No problem! Call Elena at 831-393-2063.
Elena's personal history is as colorful and captivating as her delicious fruit-filled pastries. Since she was a little girl growing up in Tunisia with her Italian parents, food has been the central theme in her life. “If I were to write a book, it would be called The Memory of the Gourmande! I was born into a life of food, and I have a memory for all of the good things I have ever eaten.” An excellent cook and artisan baker, Elena delights in serving her loyal customers who frequent Elena's Bakery and Café in Sand City, a business she has run since 1992. Everything is made from scratch using fresh and local ingredients.
During her youth, going to the farmers market with her mother, who was a wonderful cook, was a daily occurrence. Elena helped prepare the meals for big family gatherings that were centered on foods like grillades (grilled meats and vegetables), couscous (a North African pasta dish), homemade pasta and ravioli. “I was always the best guest at the table because I ate everything,” said Elena. Her family had a vineyard, grew fruits and vegetables and kept a few chickens and rabbits. “We lived close to the earth. It wasn’t until we moved to France in the 1960s that there was any canned food in the house, and we bought only canned tomatoes,” she said.
Elena’s first pseudo-commercial culinary experience took place while she attended university in France. When a strike of food service workers broke out, Elena started cooking every night for all of her friends who paid for meals. A love of travel brought her to Big Sur, where she got a part time job cooking at Nepenthe for four years. (Elena’s step-daughter Romney Steele, who grew up at the restaurant, is the author of the popular, new book, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur. It celebrates the magic and history of Nepenthe through food and stories of the founders.)
While working at Nepenthe, a chef at The Restaurant at Ventana hired her to work as his assistant. During her 14 years at Ventana, her skills in baking rose to new heights after attending the International Pastry Art Center in New York, and apprenticing at pastry and bake shops in France. Her decision to open her own bakery and café in 1992 gave her independence and the freedom to pursue her own tastes. “What I enjoy most is connecting with people and being creative in the kitchen. The farmer’s market with its seasonal variety of products is a great source of inspiration for my cooking.”