BY TISHIN DONKERSLEY, M.A.
When four-star pastry chef Waylynn Lucas’s friend, and now business partner, voice actor Nancy Truman was diagnosed with celiac disease, Waylynn was determined to find a way for Truman to continue to enjoy baked goods. Introducing Fonuts – baked or steamed donuts, which are much healthier than the deep-fried variety. It is also the name of Waylynn’s popular bakery in Los Angeles, which—better yet— also offers vegan or gluten-free baked donuts.
Waylynn’s journey to the kitchen came with many twists and turns, and soul-searching adventures. I sat down with Waylynn at her bakery to learn more about how she came to find herself, and her passion, to create and bake.
Waylynn’s mother was the heart of the home, and the kitchen. She was a seasoned cook and had many connections to high profile chefs in Los Angeles. Waylynn’s exposure at a young age to the restaurant business, as well as her mother’s constant entertaining of friends and family, was an integral part of her culinary development and appreciation for good food.
“I can wholeheartedly say that my mother was the reason for my baking – she wasn’t a baker but loved savory foods and dining. We were constantly surrounded by the food industry and cooking. Dinnertime was important. Because of those moments is why I have the passion for food and the love of cooking,” she told me.
Waylynn would spend the evenings watching her mother and brother cook together, but wouldn’t take part in the process. “It was the running joke in the family that I’m now the chef in the family when I couldn’t even boil water.”
It wasn’t until she left home for college that she began to miss good food and find her space in the culinary world. As she began to dabble in baking, she realized that this craft seemed to appeal to her sense of detail and perfection.
“[I think] pastries and baking are so much more precise. My mom would make fun of me when I would butter my toast as a kid. I would spend five minutes covering each nook and cranny with butter, evenly, and to the very edge — she would tell me my toast was getting cold, but I was so focused on making sure it was perfect. Looking back on it now, I can see that my need for detail helped me with my pastries — it was a foreshadowing, I guess you could say.”
College was a good experience, but Waylynn wasn’t satisfied with her current path and tried many new ones. She worked in restaurants, pursued a writing career, then spent time in the competitive world of modeling, but still nothing satisfied her. She was unhappy, and it wasn’t until she took a trip to South America that the realization of her true joy and self came to life. “I had all these different careers, and I didn’t realize how ugly the modeling world was until I went on vacation to Costa Rica — and stayed.”
Clearing the soul
While in Costa Rica, Waylynn went through a personal shift. She stripped her lifestyle down to the basics and reconnected with her true self. “Costa Rica got me back to a core place, and I wanted to stay there just because it was something about me being there – I felt inspired, healthier, more at peace with myself,” she recalled.
“I didn’t have running water for the first six months, I didn’t have a car, electricity, TV, nothing — it was just simple basic, bare bones, wholesome, and healthy living, and probably the happiest I have ever been in my life.
“Being stripped of everything, personal possessions, belongings and distraction… it really brought me back to myself, and [helped me] look at myself with a clean slate, and realize what drove me, [to understand] what I love to do, and my passion. I fell in love with food and pastries again.”
With her rediscovered passion, Waylynn opened a coffee shop and began experimenting with her baking. “I discovered that pastries were my passion. Eventually I sold my business, came back to Los Angeles, and went to culinary school.”
Where everybody knows your name
After graduation, Waylynn was determined to learn from the best and sacrifice everything for her goals and dreams. She landed in the kitchen with world-renowned Chef José Andrés at The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel, Beverly Hills. It was here she learned more about extracting the essence out of ingredients and creating a “guest experience.” She is forever grateful for the experience with Chef Andres and actively incorporates those practices into the creation of her pastries and community feel at Fonuts.
“[I was] fortunate to have [José] as a mentor — from that experience, I took the knowledge and experience and put it into Fonuts. We might just be a baked donut shop, but it’s about creating that customer experience mentality and attention to detail — it’s what our guests notice and what sets us apart from other bakeries. We want to be the ‘Cheers’ bakery.
“When people come in, they aren’t sure what a Fonut is, and it leads to a talking point, then connecting with our customer. Most service places don’t have that human connection, and here we want to tell them the story. I’ve had people come in in tears because they were celiac and were never able to have a donut or a baked good before —─it’s special.”
“I love breakfast foods and I love pastries…and breakfast is that one meal where you can combine sweet and savory,” she said. “It was about making something healthier, and putting a modern spin on an American classic — the donut.”
In the end, it’s about creating a community that can make connections and enjoy a sweet and a good cup of coffee─— coffee that also has a special place in Waylynn’s heart. “So many bakeries look at coffee as an afterthought, or coffee shops look at the baked good as an afterthought — why not let them both shine and make it great?”
Fonuts’ staple flavors include strawberry, blueberry and Earl Grey donuts — all made from locally grown fruits for the flavors. Delish! On the daring side, prepare your taste buds for the savory chorizo combining cheddar cheese, egg and well, a donut, and then, try the maple bacon. “Everything is better with bacon…and I thought about pancake, bacon and maple syrup all at once — it’s my favorite combination,” she said. Yum!
Like her partner Nancy, those with celiac disease will be able to enjoy a treat that some might have considered permanently off their diet. It’s just one of the many wonderful things about Fonuts’ community focus.
What is next for Fonuts?
Waylynn recently added ice cream to her menu and put her own spin on yet another American classic. She found this project challenging and most enjoyable. “[Ice cream] hits this special, nostalgic, child-like, whimsical place inside that makes me happy and can make you feel like a kid again!”
Donuts. And ice cream? Two American classics with some healthier happiness mixed in for all to enjoy.
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