Q&A: Tian Mayimin of Little Sky Bakery

The baker/owner behind farmers market-favorite Little Sky Bakery and the new Little Sky Kitchen cafe in Menlo Park discusses school lunches, family favorites and the sourdough starter that started it all.

What inspired you to start baking bread?
I got a starter from a friend’s mom and just started to play with it. I found myself baking so much bread each day, I started to show up on neighbors’ doorsteps with these warm loaves. I was so excited to share them!

Tell us about the first recipe you mastered.
Braided challah. I created a naturally-leavened version of my husband’s grandfather’s family recipe.

Your best advice for someone who wants to get into baking?
Think about the key factors: time, temperature and proportion.

What were your school lunches like as a kid?
I hated my awkwardly-packed homemade sandwiches and always craved the strange cafeteria foods—especially the bright- yellow pizza. Now I know better!

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Relax and have a good time. It really only gets harder from here.

Is there a movie you can watch over and over?
Almost any action movie. I think I’ve watched Olympus Has Fallen more than three times.

Are there any cooking shows that you love to watch?
Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home. Though I also find watching cooking shows a little nerve-wracking because it makes me think about work.

What is your most cherished possession?
The picture of my daughter just after she was born.

Is there a dish that reminds you of childhood?
Baozi—wonderful buns stuffed with meat or vegetables. My family would make what seemed like hundreds of them for Chinese New Year each winter. This is what inspired me to create the stuffed buns we make at Little Sky.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Fried larvae while traveling in the wilds of southwestern China.

What is the dumbest way you’ve been hurt?
I walked into one of the granite columns outside the bakery.

Do you collect anything?
Baking books!

Which ones do you treasure the most?
Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread and Flo Braker’s Baking for All Occasions.

What’s your favorite thing to bring home from Little Sky?
For me, it’s the raisin walnut bread. For my family, it’s the roasted or fried chicken (new at Little Sky Kitchen) and definitely the lox sandwiches—my husband and son are lox fiends.

How do you recharge your batteries after a long day?
Watching TV on the couch with my kids jumping around.