Baker Spotlight: Chef Francis Reznick, Rustika Cafe & Bakery

It's a family affair at Rustika Cafe & Bakery. Francis Reznick, along with her husband, Leonardo, has been running and operating Rustika for 20 years. While he manages the cafe side of the business, Chef Francis is the mastermind behind the beautifully designed cakes, cookies and pastries created in the kitchen.

She graduated from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and moved to Houston in 1994. She and her husband opened Rustika the following year.

"I loved to bake, and I needed to find something to do here," Reznick says. "So I started baking in my home and started going to restaurants to see if they liked my baking; they loved it and they started buying from me."

She explains that operating her baking business from home became too difficult, so she and her husband decided to move the business into a larger space, settling on a Buffalo Speedway location. A forced relocation took them to their current home, on the Southwest Freeway.

"We decided just to do more wedding and more elaborate cakes, because I have the artistic flair of a graphic designer and I love to paint," she explains. "I love to create and do all of those things, so we started doing that."

Reznick used to bake and decorate every product on her own, but now has staff to do most of the baking, leaving her time to do what she loves most: decorating.

"I don't bake them [the cakes] anymore because the recipes are set," she says. "I start baking when I do a new product. What I do mostly is decorate cakes; it's what I love to do. The decoration of the cakes is my passion."

Seeing the popularity of over-the-top cakes and crazy designs on baking-contest television shows, Reznick decided to follow the trend and create cakes with elaborate designs, to which her customers have enthusiastically responded. One thing that she won't change, however: her recipes.

"All of the recipes are from my family or recipes that I like that I change a little bit for my style," she says. "Everything here is made with real butter. No shortenings, nothing artificial. If I am going to eat something, it has to taste good. If I don't like it, it doesn't come out for the customer."

Reznick and her husband know that quality is what keeps customers, and quality is the highest priority for them in creating anything.

"If you get icing at any place, it is very sweet. They use Crisco," Leonardo says. "A 30-pound box [of Crisco] is $10. You buy butter, it will be $100. So, people don't use it because it is too expensive. Anything you touch here is going to be the highest quality. If not, they tell me and I change it immediately."

The couple hail from Mexico City, and their products pay tribute to their heritage, in addition to the cooking styles of South American and European countries.

"We mix it with a lot of European recipes. A lot of the influence is European -- my grandparents are from Russia and Poland, so I have a lot of that in my cooking," Reznick says. "I was raised like that. Mexican influenced the European-style combination and so I keep that. I don't care if it is a little more expensive for my product...I really won't change it."

Since Rustika is a family business, its products are inspired by and named after family members and family memories.

"The breakfast pastries, the strudels, the names are crazy because we name our pastries after things that happened in our family," she says. "It's funny to hear the customers say, 'Can I have a puly? Or a bubu?' because it's our family secret."

The puly (a sweet cream cheese-filled pastry) is named after the couple's dog, and many of the other pastries and baked goods are inspired by family recipes, such as the almond butter cookies Reznick's nanny made.

"I used to sit down with her and see how she made those cookies that we love and my friends loved. We grew up with those and she never used a recipe," Reznick says. "I remember I would sit down with her and say, 'Stop! Weigh it,' and then [I would] write it down so I could get the recipe."

The alfajores are traditional Argentinian cookies that Reznick re-created for Rustika. After coming across the word somewhere and researching what it meant, she discovered that it is a filled sandwich cookie, and she created five different alfajores: white chocolate, chocolate, a combo, Nutella and the traditional dulce de leche.

As for cakes, Reznick loves the white chocolate raspberry cake, while her husband's favorite is the strawberries and cream with tres leches.

"It's funny, because that strawberries and cream came from a bakery in Mexico City. They have been in business for over 80 years and the only cake they sell is that one. No other flavor whatsoever," Leonardo says. "So I grew up with that cake. Every single birthday that I had was the same cake. And it's actually the most popular cake here."

Whatever they make, an adherence to quality, no matter the cost, sets Rustika apart.

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