The time is 8:16 a.m. The place is the Downtown Russellville’s Depot Park. The Farmers Market has only been open a few minutes, and tension is high for those 15 folks patiently waiting in line to purchase their favorite baked goods under the crisp, white tent. Kuroki Bakery: Artisan Breads & Pastries is open for business, and Andrionna Kuroki, known to friends as Andi, is behind the counter and warmly greets each customer, often aware of what the order will be beforehand.
Classically trained as a French pastry chef and using only all-natural ingredients, Andi has built a rockstar reputation and loyal following. If you think this is overstating the situation, consider these comments from the quiet, but determined, customers waiting in line on a sunny Saturday morning. For Jessica Cox, passing the first few customers who carefully clutch their treasured pastries in boxes, sacks, and bags bearing the Kuroki seal quickens her heart rate and feet. “If I don’t get here by 8:25, she is sold out of my favorites,” Jessica exclaims as she moves to the head of the line. She side-whispers so as not to take her eyes off the prize, “Every item, every flavor is delicious.” Jessica is giddy to find raspberry buttercream macarons filled with lemon curd pink clouds of layered pastry concoctions with a strong come-hither appeal.
Sometimes the stars align and lucky shoppers find the bakery booth by happenstance. Newcomers Taylor and Jackson Jacobs, with 7-month old Cameron, have been lured by the buzz of the crowd patiently waiting. “This is our first time,” Taylor says, seemingly shocked to have been out-of-the-loop. “I wanted to get fresh vegetables, but I also found fresh bread. I am looking for healthier options, and this bakery offers that.” Her arms are filled with a variety of baked goods including challah, a braided Jewish bread steeped in symbolism because it is made from dough set aside as an offering.
Andi’s spiritual pilgrimage is marked by transcending cultural barriers through food pathways and has included gastronomical jaunts to Tokyo, Japan, ancestral home of her husband, Masanori, an economics professor at ATU. A family trip to Tokyo became a culinary research trip for Andi, who noticed the country has a fascination with French pastries. “There is a huge mashup between traditional and Japanese pastries, and there is a French pastry shop on every corner,” she says. Andi insists there is no better way to meet people than to eat their food. “Food is the common ground,” she says, “and everybody eats.”
Her admiration of Japanese culture doesn’t end with the noodle shops and pastry shops. Andi is a fan of the discipline. “The Japanese do everything with such care. They strive for the highest quality and take pride in a job well done,” she says. “Everything is done with passion and respect for both old ways and innovation.” Another national trait she is fond of is concern toward society rather than the individual.
Andi relates how this devotion to others manifests in society. “Even when you’re in the busiest part of Tokyo, people are quiet; there are not raised voices. They consider there might be men coming home from work and taking naps, so they are quiet out of respect,” she says. Andi puts her own inclusive spin in her business. She is not phased by special dietary requests: sugar-free, vegan, gluten-free. “Nobody has to feel left out,” she says.
Taste preferences are obliged as well. Not all pastries have to be sweet, and savory pastries share the spotlight under the tent. Andi’s inclusive spirit embraces the farmers who surround her at the market as she sources local produce for her signature dishes like cinnamon pecan scones, which are topped with honey caramel from Rural Route Farm.
French chocolate tart with brown butter crust, Japanese milkbread, Italian focaccia, Greek lasagna, and a classic French baguette that requires a starter, called poolish, to be made 14 hours in advance and must be pulled every hour for four hours (after mixing for 45 minutes) to acquire the gluten and chewiness Andi demands. The list of tasks is formidable, and she often makes 18-23 recipes, requiring 15-16 timers, in a single day. Organization is the key to survival.
In the beginning, Andi used a color-coded timeline because it was difficult to keep track of the different steps. Her inner thoughts on those busy days would often add to her stress. What recipe is next? Who has paid? Does my son have a performance at school? Who is picking him up? Diagnosed with ADD as a child, Andi has learned to control the chaos, she says.
The French culinary term ‘mise en place’ – or everything in its place – is also descriptive of the Japanese kitchen philosophy and one which Andi fully embraces. An admitted clutter-control freak and queen of making lists, she says “there is nothing excessive in my kitchen. I like to have every little thing set out and ready before I start cooking.” Andi recently purchased a Google Home Mini that controls all the timers.
Keeping busy satisfies Andi. “I am a tactile person. Baking bread requires more than just following the directions. I have to listen, look, touch and use 100 percent of my senses,” she says. “I love keeping my hands busy. Even when I’m at rest, I’m still thinking.” Her work ethic and commitment to care for her eldest son, Ezikiel, attracted her husband. The family, now in its fifth year, added another son, Kyohei. His Japanese name translates to ‘peaceful echo.’ Andi laughs as she explains the custom of naming children. “The Japanese name their children what the parents hope for their children, and Kyohei is anything but peaceful,” she says.
Still, the boys are heavily influenced by her home business and reportedly enjoy being domestic. “We definitely agree on equality in our home,” Andi says, “and my husband does all the laundry and dishes.” However, she gets an emotional thrill when the boys take to the kitchen. “My little guy (at a mere 3-and-a-half-years-old) makes his own scrambled eggs, with a pinch of salt and ground pepper.”
Influenced by food obsessions in her own childhood, Andi and her mother were hooked on old-school food shows like Iron Chef. Her paternal grandmother was a professional cake decorator who traveled the country and demonstrated her skills at grocery markets. “One of the best gifts I ever got was a complete cake decorating kit with bags and little tips and my own apron,” she says with enthusiasm. Her family continues to nurture her cooking interests, and her woodworker father created the extra large butcher block that serves as Andi’s pastry counter. A passion for food and cooking continues to unite the far-flung families who live as close as Missouri and as far as Tokyo.
Researching the rituals involved in elaborate preparations appeal to Andi’s curiosity and desire to push herself to the highest culinary standards. She uses only the finest ingredients available and is quick to adapt recipes for dietary needs, including cakes and cookies she creates for catered celebrations. Andi confesses that “this is not something I can just slap together. It’s a part of my soul. That is why I can’t make bread if I am angry. My baking is always a product of love, kindness, and happiness. When I make wedding cakes, I always listen to romantic music. I want people to taste that love.”
No doubt the people already do.
The time is 8:28 a.m., and canelés, brûléed custards, made with rum and vanilla beans, are gathered on the lower shelf of the glassed pastry cart, tucked in discreetly and not calling too much attention to themselves. Andi tells a customer the pastries are from the Bordeaux region of France in hushed, ethereal tones. “You can really taste the creamy custard inside and the lovely Maillard browning,” she says. Customers Kirby and Christine Austin have completed their purchases and turn to leave. They are hugging super-seed boules and a box of cranberry scones. “She’s an incredible baker. Her scones are the best we’ve ever had, and we lived in Scotland, so we know a good scone,” Christine says.
Andi holds an associate degree in Baking and Pastry Arts from the Art Institutes: International Culinary School of Kansas City and has worked as a pastry chef for Story Restaurant in Prairie Village, Kansas, recognized as a semi-finalist for Outstanding Restaurant by James-Beard. Andi was the lead designer and pastry coordinator for Sugar Mamma’s Bakery and Cafe in Kansas City, Missouri, and production assistant for Three Women and an Oven in Overland Park, Kansas. Her notable achievements have included winning the commission to create the congratulatory Grammy cake for the Zac Brown Band in 2013 – the honor was based on internet reviews of cake decorators in the Kansas City area- and winning the 2019 Taste of the Valley Best Beverage award for her original Lavender Lemonade.
It is that lemonade Andi offers in generous sample cups to customers as they linger over the nearly depleted shelves and racks. “It is made from organic lavender buds,” she says, lilting the sounds of the words as if they had dropped from heaven. The refreshing liquid seems an elixir. One woman briefly inhales its essence then takes a long sip. Lost in reverie, her eyes remain closed. It seems we have another pilgrim firmly planted on the path to epicurean enlightenment.
Kuroki Bakery operates at the Pope County Farmers Market on Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Depot Park. The baked goods are also available through Russellville Online Community Market; orders are placed ahead then delivered to the depot on Tuesday evenings. To order, visit http://russellville.locallygrown.net/. To keep up on what is happening in Andi’s world, and to enjoy saliva-inducing photos and recordings that feature Andi working her magic, like and follow her on Facebook at Kuroki Bakery: Artisan Breads and Pastries.