Soft-baked chocolate chip cookies are hard to come by in the capital, probably because ovens are not a standard household item in Beijing. Nevertheless, Lin Zhong, founder and CEO of The Fig Tree, remains undeterred in her quest to bring the craft of European baking to Beijing residents. The Fig Tree is a pastry school specializing in Western treats, the first of its kind in Beijing. It is a unique spot where families can spend an interactive day together in the kitchen.
Learn While You Create
Located in Chaowai Soho, The Fig Tree is a dreamy space for any aspiring baker. An array of dangling pots are found in one corner, baking books and mixers are scattered throughout, a selection of beaters, molds, and icing spatulas sit on the shelves, and two large work stations occupy the center space. Kids can stand comfortably at these tables, or sit on stools. The second floor, which is more of a cozy nook and an observatory of sorts, boasts floor-to-ceiling windows. "I had this idealized image of a space where you can just learn and watch the whole process," says Zhong.
But don’t expect to be just an observer if you attend a class; Zhong trains her students using a rigorous, hands-on, start-to-finish methodology. This could be due to her own training; Zhong earned a Diploma in Patisserie at the London branch of Le Cordon Bleu and has an MBA from Columbia University. Born in Shanghai and raised in New York, Zhong is fluent in English and Chinese, and switches effortlessly between languages during classes. Zhong possesses an almost menacing attention to detail and glides through the room managing pots, pastries and pupils. But don’t get us wrong: Zhong who has a young daughter of her own (Lilah, age 6), is patient with kids and adults alike.
Popular classes at The Fig Tree include French macaroons, fresh fruit tarts, Black Forest cake, and the newly added DIY brunch. Some classes are designed specifically for children, though Zhong strongly recommends that parents accompany their kids. Instruction lasts between two-and-a-half to three hours.
Classes are all DIY, with supervision by Zhong. In a demonstration class, Zhong doesn’t bat an eye as she mixes up some chocolate ganache and turns on the heat, all the while explaining the science behind the process. "Chocolate is very sensitive to temperature," she explains, while holding the mixing bowl against her stomach and stirring fastidiously, "which is why it’s better not to mix it over the counter." Kids and adults are equals at The Fig Tree; while parents enthusiastically note the technical reasons behind each whisk, churn, and mix, little ones can concentrate on "doing."
The Fig Tree also hosts private themed events, including birthdays, weddings, baby showers and anniversaries.
"For one private event, we had a Chika Chika Boom Boom party," which was a huge hit, Zhong says, referring to the famous children’s book by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault. Kids sculpted shapes with crisped rice and made a coconut tree. Zhong is open to any new ideas and themes for private events, especially one in which kids and adults can work side by side.
As a mother, Zhong understands the importance of a nutritious meal for kids. But she sees no reason to shy away from full-fat ingredients. "If you eat something very satisfying and rich, you won’t go back and snack later," she says, displaying a very French attitude towards food.
Most of the ingredients used at The Fig Tree are imported from Hong Kong, though the fruit is seasonal and local. All items at The Fig Tree are carefully selected and maintained, and Zhong’s philosophy of quality over quantity is always observed. "People are often surprised to taste pastries made from quality ingredients, because it just tastes so much better than that generic, processed stuff. Here, we use real ingredients – such as vanilla beans – and people are often surprised when they eat something so organic and fresh for the first time," she says.
But the best treat of all? "The take-home technique," says Zhong. No baker walks away empty-handed; the treats of the day are available to take home and enjoy. Baked goods are also available for purchase.
"Food is the way to change people’s opinions about things," explains Zhong. "Once they find out about how things are processed, created, and finally brought to the table, they learn to care about other issues." This makes The Fig Tree not just a fun DIY activity for the kids, but an educational space with progressive ideas.
RMB 350 per session (up to three hours long). For an additional RMB 100, you can bring a partner. Call ahead to ask about private event cost and scheduling.
The Fig Tree. Unit 702, Block A, Chaowai Soho, 6B Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District (139 1056 6742; email@example.com)www.thefigtree.cn