Karen Kong loves butter and playing with ingredients that inspire a sense of nostalgia, sandwiching them between layers of flaky pastry.
After years of working in restaurant kitchens — as a barista at Starbucks both in Calgary and Hong Kong, as a line cook during the dinner shift at Joey’s when she was starting her SAIT Culinary Arts Program classes at 7 a.m., and as a baker for the Teatro Group — she decided to do her own thing.
It’s a pop-up, small-batch patisserie shop called Butter Block.
Now Kong’s days start at 4 a.m., her pastries timed precisely for proofing and baking in Made by Marcus’ ovens before she heads out to deliver them.
Part of the reason she struck out on her own was so she could play around with new ideas and flavour combinations, drawing inspiration from current food trends as well as her upbringing in Hong Kong, where she lived until she was eight-years-old.
Some of her most popular croissants are stuffed with almonds, matcha and sesame.
These days she works on a tasty new series monthly. Her pastries may be inspired by pie one month, chocolate bars the next.
Her dense or creamy but always flavourful fillings make her croissants seem less delicate and reserved.
“People want the flavours of their childhoods — s’mores, breakfast cereal, hot chocolate — familiar things you want to enjoy at home,” she says.
Kong started doing test runs on Tuesdays, where her customers could try a new flavour for a toonie, helping her assess what new ideas work best.
“I want to get to know my customer base, to meet them and know what they want,” Kong explained.
Like many of the new generation of butchers, bakers and brewers, Kong relies heavily on Instagram to get the word out. She has another project in the works, but is waiting to come up with the right hashtag before launching.
Although her pastries are available at coffee shops, Kong wants to break out of that box.
“I don’t want croissants to only be associated with tea and coffee,” she says as a friend stops by to pick up a package of pastries to bring out to the mountains.
“I want people to take them outside, take them anywhere, have fun with them. A croissant is something you can have anytime, anywhere.”
Look for Butter Block pastries at Monogram coffee as well as various markets and pop-ups this summer. Kong is often at the Livery with her fiancé, Nhon Luu, helping out and will be at the upcoming Little Modern Market at the Rally Pointe this September.
“This is it, this is the time,” Kong says over a stuffed croissant and fancy iced tea at Monogram.
“I’m hitting 30 next year, and if all else fails, at least I tried.”