Edible gold luster shines up the signature piloncillo cochita cookie of Cochi Dorado.
I’m sitting on the patio of La Jolla bakery and restaurant Sugar & Scribe, marveling at my “full Irish breakfast.” The $16 plate indeed goes the distance: two eggs, a thick slice of Irish bacon, a grilled Irish sausage, potatoes, roasted tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, Heinz baked beans, and a patty each of those distinctive old world sausages, black pudding and white pudding.
7660 Fay Ave, La Jolla, CA
I haven’t enjoyed such a breakfast since a memorable weekend in Galway a decade back, and to be honest, I didn’t expect to order it this morning. I actually came here for the pan dulce.
Mexican pastries and Irish breakfasts may seem like an odd pairing. But, for the month of June, Sugar & Scribe is doubling as the pop-up home of Cochi Dorado, the modern panadería concept by San Diego’s resident Master Chef champion, Claudia Sandoval.
A Oaxacan chocolate and cinnamon cake truffle, with edible gold accents
Since winning the sixth season of chef Gordon Ramsey’s Fox network cooking competition, Sandoval has kept busy jet setting from gig to gig: cookbook author, event chef, TV judge, and brand ambassador to name a few. But for the past two years, she’s been nurturing this Cochi Dorado vision, looking for a more stable outlet, and building a legacy for her daughter. The idea was to establish a creative update of the traditional Mexican bakery in their hometown, National City.
A two tone concha invokes the ocean, affixed with a gummy starfish.
Last summer, she raised $50K in crowdfunding from fans, which she used to secure a location kitchen equipment, branding concepts, and architects. She lined up a contractor and a small business loan, and as March commenced, prepared to start a build-out that should have resulted in a June opening.
Except it never happened. Coronavirus showed up, and the lender abruptly withdrew her loan, diverting all its attention and resources instead to established restaurants requiring relief from the state-mandated shutdown. Existing restaurants would count themselves lucky merely to survive the pandemic, so what chance did a not-yet-open concept have? In a video message to her fans and supporters in April, a teary Sandoval announced that, Cochi Dorado would not be opening as planned.
Cochi Dorado pastries include (clockwise from top left) a rainbow sprinkle cookie, rose shaped oreja, pineapple and cream cheese empanada, and mazapan cake pop.
Then came a text message from a friend. “You can’t give up,” it said, “I have a crazy idea…”
The text came from Maeve Rochford, winner of the Food Network's Holiday Baking Championship, and the executive chef and owner of Sugar & Scribe. Still in shutdown mode, Rochford’s inspired by Irish traditions restaurant had room to host a Cochi Dorado pop-up. And so, for one month, a guy like me could walk in for an Irish breakfast and walk out with a bag of pan dulce.
The full Irish breakfast served at Sugar & Scribe in La Jolla
Aside from Sandoval’s special order tres leches cake ($65), the Cochi Dorado pop-up features an assortment of cookies, candies, and pastries ranging from $3 to $7 each. I went ahead and ordered the $30 tasting bundle to try all seven.
Highlights include a signature cookie. Cochi Dorado loosely translates to golden pig, so this take on a cochito piloncillo sugar cookie is coated in edible gold luster. Another panadería favorite, the concha sweet roll, gets an aesthetic boost. Here, the buttery shell-shaped pastry takes on a beachy look, half-colored ocean blue, with a gummy starfish planted on the sandy bottom half.
Master Chef winner Claudia Sandoval thanks a customer at her Cochi Dorado pop-up, at La Jolla's Sugar & Scribe through June.
Most popular appears to be the Mexican cake chocolate truffles, which combines cinnamon and Oaxacan dark chocolate for a rich but not overly sweet, cake-like confection. There are also rainbow sprinkle cookies; flaky, rose-flavored orejacookies (shaped like hearts more than ears); and mazapan cake pops (note: mazapan is similar to marzipan, but made from peanuts rather than almonds).
The cake pops and truffles were favorites of the kids in my party, but I must cast my vote for the pineapple and cream cheese empanadas, also coated in gold. That’s what I’ll be looking for in the event Sandoval is able to bring Cochi Dorado to life permanently.
Which is looking more likely these days. She tells me she’s adjusting her business model, opening up to the idea of following through with private investors rather than a small business loan. In the meantime, other chefs have approached her about future pop-ups in other locations around the county.
Which is looking like a smart move. Early fan response to Cochi Dorado included several sold-out days, and apparently I haven’t been the only one smart enough to stick around and discover the terrific food available at Sugar & Scribe. That Irish breakfast was on the money, and everyone at my table was pleased with their less-Irish breakfasts as well. I look forward to returning soon.