Drop Ins: Pastry Chef Sasha Piligian

We believe in the power of routines and finding meaning in the ways we sew comfort into our everyday surroundings. Drop Ins is a series that explores just that, taking a dressed-down look at the lives of people who inspire us.

Sasha Piligian has mastered the art of the beautiful cake that’s rustic in spirit yet deceptively expert in execution. If you’re an LA resident, you’ve likely had the honor of trying or at least being enticed by her bakes at beloved brunch spot Sqirl, or beloved everything spot Gjusta. But the road that led her to pastry wasn’t necessarily straight; A rather relatable quarter-life crisis was prompted by spending her mid-twenties working in retail and realizing she wanted to do something that actually made her happy. Enter: Cake. One pastry chef internship led to a full-time gig and the rest is history.  These days her schedule looks a bit different and she’s more focused than ever on building up new systems that are community-driven. She launched her order service, May Microbakery, which has allowed her to create in ways that feel deeply personal, both in flavor and flair. Read on to see how she’s faring as a first-time business owner, and what she’s most excited about for the future of food. 

You launched your order service, May Microbakery, last year. What's been the most surprising thing about it? And the most rewarding?

The most surprising thing has been the overwhelming support from the community; it's also the most rewarding. Having full control over every aspect is great to be able to try a bunch of new ideas and flavors out and customers are responsive. I think they enjoy the playfulness too. It really shows through with the pastry boxes that rotate weekly.

How do you prioritize balancing work and home, especially when they're under the same roof?

I have gotten better at this a year later, and sometimes I still find myself replying to emails on my “off” days. It’s a challenge to prioritize and step away from my kitchen because there is always something else I could do, clean, organize, etc. I try to take Monday and Tuesdays off, but it's mostly to catch up on administrative stuff, organizing receipts, responding to emails, and running to pick up ingredients.

The most surprising thing has been the overwhelming support from the community; it's also the most rewarding.
Your prior gigs as the pastry chef for bigger operations must have been at a different pace. How has your approach to baking changed since taking the freelance plunge?

The biggest difference for me, which I love, is I don’t have anyone to answer to, for better or for worse. I have absolute freedom to try out whatever I want to. It's so fun to steer the pastry conversation through cakes, boxes, special events, or offering a very limited amount of something and seeing what people think. I am forever grateful for the freedom.

The pandemic definitely changed the food landscape in many cities, with the positive side of that being a wellspring of small and homegrown operations. What are you most optimistic about for the future of food?

I’m really excited about all the “micro” kitchens that have popped up all over LA, from people who were sous chefs, pastry chefs, or in the food community now doing their own thing through their point of view. I think it leads the way to the next crop of new restaurants and spaces, I hope. We also know that the pandemic really showed how fragile this industry is so a lot of what I’m hoping for a more thoughtful embrace of new systems, equitable work, and community.

I’m envisioning spaces that aren't just about serving food, but serving the community in multiple ways, bake sales, or raising funds which is really important to me.

The pandemic showed how fragile the [restaurant] industry is, so I’m hoping for a more thoughtful embrace of new systems, equitable work, and community.
Best thing about being your own boss? The hardest thing?

The best thing is getting to make my own schedule and draw really clear lines and boundaries which I’m trying to get better at. The most challenging thing is the unknown for me personally, I am very logical and rational and this is a whole new world running a business where one week I might have great sales and another it’s less. It’s uncomfortable and challenging but I welcome it. 

What three items are always in your fridge?

Eggs, tortillas, and cheese (I make a lot of tacos, quesadillas).

Sasha was photographed by Roman Koval at her home in LA on April 6, 2021. If you're an LA local, check out May Microbakery's menu here, and don't miss the date, kumquat, and CBD-spiked recipe Sasha created just for us here.

Chelsea JonesChelsea Jones LA-based copywriter and social strategist.

Likes: Half-baked thoughts, rice pudding, nostalgia.
Dislikes: Papaya, bugs.