Atelier PQ is an under-the-radar cottage bakery out of a home in East San Jose, which has developed a cult following for its stunning desserts. They star a super high gloss mirror glaze, with broad brush strokes or electric crackles swirling through, and sprinkles of gold leaf and luster dust for a galactic touch. At first glance, you might think these are cakes, but they’re technically entremets, which literally means “between courses” (as in, after mains but before cheese), and also refers to a specific style of French dessert that’s not so often seen in the Bay. While these entremets are almost too pretty to eat, if you dare sink a fork into them, you’ll cut down through many layers of different tropical and tea flavors and creamy and crunchy textures.
But why is a fancy French dessert hanging out on a front porch in San Jose, one might ask? Well, Phoung Quach “PQ” Fung is a classically trained pastry chef who switched gears during the pandemic, and is now pouring these gorgeous entremets out of her home kitchen.
Fung grew up in San Diego and was studying to be a therapist, but she says much to the disappointment of her Asian parents, she fell in love with pastries on a trip to Japan. Against their wishes, she packed her bags and moved to Los Angeles, where she had no friends and no family, and enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena. She started her culinary career at Bottega Louie in LA, before moving to the Bay in 2013, where she worked everywhere from Sixth Course and Tout Sweet in San Francisco, to the Michelin-starred Madera restaurant at Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park, and finally Alexander’s Patisserie in Mountain View. Hotel dinner wound down late at night, while bakery hours started at 4 in the morning. “I was always either the first one in or the last one out,” Fung says. Sometimes she worked two or three jobs at a time, driving the length of the Peninsula to bake desserts during the day in Mountain View and sheet croissants at night in SF.
Leading up to the pandemic, Fung was the executive pastry chef overseeing the program at Alexander’s Patisserie, known for black sesame croissants and matcha macarons. After getting married and returning from her honeymoon, Fung found herself in a leadership role “seemingly overnight,” in charge of the full menu, the wedding cake program, and a staff of about 12. “It was hard,” Fung says. “I did not like the person I was … It was hard to go from being friends with everyone to being their manager.” When the lockdown hit in March 2020, her entire staff was let go, and Fung found herself baking solo in an empty kitchen, six days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day. Then she got pregnant. “What’s the point of me working like crazy by myself for a company, when I can be doing what I want to be doing by myself, instead?” Fung says. “I wanted to have a better work-life balance. I didn’t want to have a daughter and then never see her.”
She launched Atelier PQ quietly out of her home kitchen toward the end of 2020. Fung started with a few pandemic pastry boxes, working up to her first wedding cake (“it was so scary”). Getting a second refrigerator was a big milestone, although she still misses the blast freezers from pro pastry kitchens, which set the mousse so much faster. But now she’s able to take care of her daughter full time. When she goes down for a nap, that’s when Fung goes to work. (Or not, as in the case of this interview, which the two took together while shopping for butter at Costco.) And sometimes they hang out on the front porch, waiting for customers to pick up their pastry orders. Her husband folds boxes and does dishes when he comes home from work.
But on days off, it’s spatulas down. “I grew up with immigrant parents who were always working,” Fung says. “I didn’t want that for my daughter.”
The concept for Atelier PQ was to leverage her French technique and training, and mix in her Vietnamese heritage and favorite flavors. The full menu (available for pickup from her home) has grown to include entremets, cheesecakes, tarts, cream puffs in 17 different flavors, from Vietnamese coffee to pandan, and macarons in a whopping 44 different flavors, from lychee to kumquat, and that’s before you even dig into the separate menu for custom cakes, which are chiffon and their own specialty. “It’s a really big menu for what it is,” Fung confirms. “Sometimes it kind of bites me in the butt a little bit.”
But she found her niche with the entremets, which Fung loves both because they’re so unique — the way the glaze flows, each one looks a little different — and they’re so complex, packing many layers, flavors, and textures into a molded dessert. “The rule for me is I want a soft texture, a crunchy texture, a cake texture,” Fung explains. The fan favorite is the Hong Ngoc, which is fresh strawberry mousse, guava coulis, lychee confit, vanilla chiffon, and a butter sable, so you’re biting down through creamy mousse, jammy fruit, fluffy cake, and a cookie crunch. But Fung’s personal favorite is the durian, the tropical fruit with a stigma for being stinky, but she promises that paired with a Tahitian vanilla mousse, it’s as custardy as soft serve.
Her customers love that her creations aren’t too sweet, and she finds it the most gratifying to get parent and grandparent approval. “That’s the ultimate compliment from Asian elders.”
Atelier PQ is available for preorders on Pastel, so fans no longer have to drive down from Danville to get the stunning entremets. Fung is easing in with a couple of desserts per week, but she’s swapping out fresh flavors frequently, so check back. If you’ve never used Pastel before, sign up for access below.