Sometimes, all we need to bring us back to our youth is for a nostalgic flavor to unlock the memories of our childhoods.
That's what Hollywood's Cake Monkey is all about. The bakery is home to desserts that tug on your sentimental heartstrings with its menu of high-end desserts inspired by childhood snacks and miniature layer cakes.
Essentially, it's all of your favorite retro snacks grown up.
We spoke to head baker and co-owner Elizabeth Belkind to learn more about her pastry-driven journey and what led her to Cake Monkey.
"I was born in Mexico City, and my family was originally from Russia and Poland." she said. "We moved to the U.S. in 1982."
At the University of Michigan, Belkind got a masters in Russian studies.
"I got to travel to Russia and was fascinated with the country and the culture, it was so different from what we know here. I got hooked, and for a while, I was obsessed with it. It was a huge journey of self-discovery, but also discovering a world that's completely different from ours."
This eventually led to her work helping re-settle immigrants and Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the U.S.
"It was different from what I'm doing now for sure," she told FOODBEAST.
While a noble career path, it just wasn't for her and Belkind left Michigan immediately after she graduated.
"I loved my work, but did not like being at a desk in an office," she explained. "I decided to move to California and start anew in a career that was much more dynamic, and where my days would be spent creatively."
That career, it turns out, was in food.
"I liked being on my feet and the rush of working in a kitchen," she laughed.
Belkind went to culinary school and began working as a line cook at Campanile — her first job in food. There, she met Roxanna Jullapat (now of Friends and Family) who inspired her to take up pastries.
"Her station was right next to mine, and I would watch her every night." said Belkind.
Watching Chef Julepat work awakened something in her and Belkind asked herself:
"Why in the world am I doing what I'm doing, grinding lobster shells and veal bones and stinking, and she's doing something so different, fun, and luscious?"
Belkind requested to change stations soon after and trained under Kim Boyce, the then pastry chef at Campanile.
Cue the passage of time.
After leaving her first restaurant, Belkind spent the next few years honing her pastry skills, working as the pastry chef at Grace restaurant.
"We started a Wednesday night donut shop at Grace, where we would change the dessert menu to just donuts," she said.
"It was a humongous hit," she told us. "It really helped put my name out there. It kind of became my trademark all of a sudden — I was making donuts and kind of like American nostalgic desserts."
When she left Grace, Belkind came across an ad on Craigslist that said:
Wanted: Chef who must love cake.
Already looking to start her own businesses and having saved up some money, Belkind answered the ad where she met her future partner Lisa Olin.
Six months after meeting, the two started Cake Monkey.
The idea behind Cake Monkey was thanks to Olin, who wanted to highlight refined pastries inspired by childhood snacks. Belkind, who was known for her creativity and elegance in pastry work, was tasked with bringing those snacks to life — a task which she pretty much nailed.
Popular items include: Pop Pies (a take on Pop-Tarts), Big O's (Oreos), Miniature Cakes, El Rollos (Ho-Hos) and Inside Out S'mores.
It's been quite a journey for Belkind since beginning her first job on the line. With her own team at Cake Monkey, Belkind told us her absolute favorite thing about coming into work.
"I love when I see my team excelling at what they're doing and nailing the product," she says. "It's such a struggle to communicate your idea to someone else and have someone execute it perfectly and when it happens, it's the best thing ever."
Cake Monkey is currently based out of Los Angeles, with a production facility located in North Hollywood. Belkind says a second storefront is soon to open in Westlake Village. If you're ever looking to rekindle the wistful tastes of your adolescence, you need to check Cake Monkey out.