If you’ve wandered the streets of Frogtown lately, you may have stumbled upon Elysian, an event space and restaurant where Clearwater Street meets the L.A. River. With any luck, you’ve peered beyond the wooden gate, wandered through the garden and sat down for a meal in the indoor/outdoor venue. Said meal would not be complete without ordering one (or more) of the fine treats being made each day by pastry chef Sarah Lange.
No matter what you chose — a caramel-almond sticky bun, an armagnac prune scone, buttermilk biscuits, vanilla bean doughnuts with chocolate ganache — it’s likely you wondered how on earth any morning pastry could taste so good. According to Lange, she has no magical pastry powers. Hard work and the typical twists and turns that accompany the pursuit of a teenage dream eventually brought her to Elysian, where she’s been able to showcase some of her favorite recipes and hone new ones.
Raised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Lange fell in love with baking in high school. After brief stints as a food writer and a talent agent’s assistant (she’d moved to Los Angeles by then), she went right back to the oven, landing a spot on the pastry team at Craft. She lasted about six months.
“Being in a big kitchen is akin to being in the military,” Lange said. “You go in thinking that someone’s going to hold your hand, but there’s no time for that. I learned a lot about fine dining and about the business side of things, though. It was great experience, if short-lived.”
A few apron stripes earned, Lange soon took a position at Cake Monkey, where she saw a distinctly different side of the food industry: wholesale production. She stayed on for two years, working with executive pastry chef Elizabeth Belkind, before starting culinary school. Then the Hart and the Hunter called.
“The kitchen was bare-bones, but it was good for me,” Lange said. “I also had creative freedom — I wasn’t at a point before then to be doing my own thing, but I rose to the challenge. I was very excited to have that job. And unlike in a wholesale production environment, I got to see people enjoying my product.”
It was at the Hart and the Hunter that Lange came up with some of her original dessert recipes — including her lemon icebox pie – and was also able to work out kinks in more classic items. Another perk: The job spurned a side business. When Hart and the Hunter barista Christopher Abel Alameda left to open Menotti’s Coffee Stop in Venice, he requested that Lange supply his shop with her granola. That was the seed that grew into her online shop Bearclaw Kitchen. Bagged granola and granola bars from the Lange’s brand are now available at Dinosaur Coffee, Hermanos Coffee, Shreebs and more.
With her name spreading quickly in the L.A. food scene, Lange was invited by fellow pastry chef Roxana Jullapat to join her “Bakers Making Everything,” a pop-up dinner series held at Elysian, where Jullapat was cooking at the time. While helming an apropos Pennsylvania Dutch–style dinner for the pop-up, Lange hit it off with Elysian creative director David Thorne and the rest of the Elysian team. When Jullapat departed last fall, Lange was asked to step in, making brunch treats on Saturdays and Sundays, and dinner desserts on Thursdays and Fridays.
“Elysian is a beautiful, special place,” Lange said. “I’m inspired by the amazing produce and ingredients we get. For pastry making, we use European-style Plugra butter — made in Pennsylvania, by the way. And I’m heartened by the feedback we’re getting.”
As the weeks go by and the seasonal produce offerings change, fans can expect Lange to roll out new or refreshed recipes at Elysian. Right now, evening Elysian guests might be able to order her chocolate torte, mascarpone-honey cake or the newly added chamomile-milk tart with strawberries. Cherry rye hand pies will hit the brunch menu soon.
“I want to make things that are simple and delicious and made with the best ingredients,” Lange says.
Elysian, 2806 Clearwater St.; elysianla.com