The 24the annual GLAAD Media Awards are fully underway with the third and final event scheduled for May 11 at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square. GLAAD's multi-city event brings celebrities, corporate partners, media professionals and young adults together to amplify the voice of the LGBT community and achieve full equality. One of San Francisco's most notable voices in the LGBT community, Yigit Pura, is eager to be involved with these exciting media awards and welcome everyone to his city.
It was difficult for anyone not to immediately become intrigued and fascinated by Yigit as the world watched him win the first season of Bravo's Top Chef Just Desserts. Beyond just his good looks and charm, he was able to showcase his expertise in the kitchen and his passion for creating desserts that were not only beautiful but delicious. It has been less than three years since this win, and he has been making the most of every minute, both in the kitchen and in the community.
It must feel like a lifetime ago that he was discovering his love for cooking and baking in Ankara, Turkey, while working side-by-side with his mother. After making it to Manhattan, he began with a position at Le Cirque 2000, and then the at the Four Seasons. His true calling began when working under Chef Daniel Boulud as his pastry sous-chef at Daniel and then as Executive Pastry Chef in Las Vegas. With an obvious love for San Francisco, he found that his calling was in the city he adores and working with his friends at Taste Catering and Event Planning. This strong relationship, paired with his desire to open a true patisserie, led to the opening of Tout Sweet in Macy's Union Square. With a clean and minimalistic design, vibrant colors and sweets so beautifully created that your heart skips a beat, the place screams Yigit Pura.
The LGBT community has been rewarded with ongoing efforts by Yigit, both in his local San Francisco community and on a national level. Approaching these issues with a sincere passion, he has worked directly with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), The Trevor Project, the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Meals on Wheels of San Francisco during the past few years. Never slowing down, he continues to find more ways that he can make a difference.
Yigit served on the host committee for the Concert to End Bullying, presented by the Association of Yale Alumni and the Yale Whiffenpoofs Alumni Association, and benefiting New Conservatory Theatre Center's YouthAware program. This star-studded event took place on Saturday, April 20, 2013, at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.
Leading up to the GLAAD Media Awards in May, he will also be serving as the Celebrity Chair for Project Open Hand's upcoming Dessert First Gala on May 5. Brought to you by Macy's and Project Open Hand, the event will be hosted at the Four Seasons Hotel and is an evening to support these great causes and celebrate the sweetness of life.
In a recent interview, Yigit approaches the questions with his typical flair and youthful exuberance. Covering a broad spectrum of topics, we looked at the work he's doing with the LGBT community, as well as the excitement surrounding his patisserie, his upcoming cookbook and more of his everyday life outside work.
Damon M. Banks: You're obviously having a big impact on a lot of teens who may be struggling with coming out. As a successful chef and gay activist, what has been your most eye-opening and/or rewarding experience these past few years while working with these youth programs?
Yigit Pura: I was a guest speaker at the Bay Area Youth Summit, which is the only completely youth-led LGBT organization in the world. It is their goal to bring an end to bullying in schools. I was absolutely blown away by how eloquent and passionate these high school students were. It definitely gave me faith in the next generation of activists.
Banks: Tout Sweet looks amazing and seems to be a great addition to Union Square. Have you had time to really sit back and enjoy the location, and what is your favorite part of now being a business owner?
Pura: I haven't had a lot of down time, but my passion is baking, so I enjoy all the work I have put into Tout Sweet. My favorite part of being a business owner is seeing the smiles on people's faces when they bite into one of my desserts. We are such a busy culture that it is great to see someone take a few minutes out of their day to enjoy one of life's sweet moments.
Banks: The interior of Tout Sweet and even your packaging are beautifully done. What were your inspirations when doing these designs?
Pura: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is my all-time favorite book; I get a lot of inspiration from it. Tout Sweet's design and packaging grew out of my love of modern patisseries while also appealing to the "inner child" in me. I hope everyone who visits the store will be able to find their "inner child" as well.
Banks: How would you describe the content and "personality" of your upcoming cookbook?
Pura: My book is titled Sweet Alchemy and will be coming out in September 2013. I wanted to break down the barriers for intimidation which people have when it comes to making really special desserts. I want to show people that they can create really wonderful desserts at home, given they can be patient, follow some simple science and of course by putting lots of love in it.
Banks: When you find time for an official vacation, what's your ideal destination, and why?
Pura: Maui is one of my favorite places on the planet -- raw nature at its best. I try to go once a year to recharge my batteries. Not to mention it's the land where you can find copious amounts of fresh passion fruit growing on the bushes, ready for the picking.
Banks: When you get a day off, what do you and your dog, Maui, enjoy doing around San Francisco?
Pura: What's a day off? When I do get the opportunity to have a day off, I love experiencing all that the city has to offer, especially in ways only locals know. But my biggest joy is probably getting on my road bike and doing a really great 30-mile loop across the bridge and back by the ocean side and cutting through Golden Gate Park. Magic!
Banks: When entertaining at home, do you have any fantastic savory dishes that you still enjoy preparing?
Pura: At home I really like the simple pleasures. I think it balances my professional side. There is a lentil-and-rice dish my mom used to make, and it's still one of my favorites. And I will never say "no" to oven-roasted chicken and a great panzanella during the summer months.
Yigit relates his philosophy on baking to Buddhism: "Enlightened desserts lie between the two extremes. You have to respect the history and heritage of food while still feeling inspired to recreate things every day." This philosophy, combined with his love of life and his passion for baking, manage to keep him focused and grounded while still enjoying the many successes. The LGBT community certainly appreciates the many efforts put forth by Yigit and looks forward to many more years of working with him, while enjoying the many inventive desserts from his kitchen.
Follow Damon M. Banks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/luxurytraveldmb