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VOL. 40 | NO. 26 | Friday, June 24, 2016

From Starbucks barista to Le Cordon Bleu student

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I visit Starbucks probably more than I should. However, I have loved coffee for as far back as I can remember.

No matter which way I leave my neighborhood, I have to pass a Starbucks, which almost always calls me to it. So I have befriended several of the baristas at one particular store. I know most of them by name, and they know me as well.

There is this one young lady that stood out to me from the others, mainly because of her aqua-colored necklace, matching lipstick and her contagious smile.

Nora Brineman started working at Starbucks a while back, and she always has a smile and something nice to say. In fact, when my son went with me during one visit, his remark was that she encompassed what a barista should be.

Unfortunately, Nora won’t be there much longer, and when I found out why I had to interview her. See, she has been accepted into one of the leading and most prestigious culinary schools in the world, Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

At only 19, she will be one of the youngest in her class, where mostly only experienced chefs in their late twenties or early thirties are the selected students.

Since the age of 1, Nora has aspired to be a baker. She started teaching herself how to bake breads and, being from an Asian family, that was quite different, as Asians don’t usually make their own breads and pastries.

However, she was determined, and after using three boxed mixes decided to toss them and make them from scratch.

So how did Nora manage to get accepted into Le Cordon Bleu?

“I don’t know,” she says. “I looked at several. I looked at a great school in London, the London Technical Institute, and was very impressed, but I thought it was a bit too ‘businessy’ for me and, so, just as a joke and giggles, I decided to apply to Le Cordon Bleu because it is the best one in the world.”

As for experience, Nora has little, other than what she made at home for her family and friends. She did work about two years as an intern at Silvek’s European Bakery, which operates inside the Kroger store in the Heights district of Little Rock.

She says working at Silvek’s was quite an honor as she was the only intern ever accepted, even though there had been some apply who had gone to Le Cordon Bleu.

Upon leaving Silvek’s, she was hired on at Starbucks. Working there provided her the opportunity to check out schools and polish off her specific goals.

Her end goal is to own her own bakery, one that is community-based and gives back in a green sense, such as scrimping and saving, and using only the ingredients needed, avoiding throw-away foods at the end of the day.

She also wants to connect to community gardens and local farmers for fresh, locally grown, fruits and vegetables, and then donate to local food programs and soup kitchens. She has a fun idea of a monthly community potluck where different nationalities bring their favorite dishes and recipes to share with each other.

Nora says she believes in food equality and that everyone should have fresh, organic foods available. So she does not know where she will finally be setting up shop, but it will be somewhere all of her goals are available and respected.

There is more to Nora than just cooking. She has been an exchange student, and in her short life so far, has traveled to 32 different countries. Upon returning from Belgium while still in school, she started a recycling program at her last school, a private Christian school located in Little Rock.

She also volunteers at St. Andrews church on Mondays and Wednesdays, teaching and helping 2 year olds.

On Mondays, she cares for children who speak mostly Arabic and Farsi (although she only knows 3 words of Farsi), and on Wednesday nights tends to children whose parents are in an abused/addiction recovery program.

So what do Starbucks and Le Cordon Bleu have in common? Nora Brineman.

I have no doubt she will bloom wherever she is planted in this life.

Below is one of her favorite recipes, which I can’t wait to try!

Kay Bona is an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact her at kay@dailydata.com.

Soft Shortbread Cookies with Jam and a Lime Glaze

Ingredients for cookies:
1 cup softened butter
1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar (light or brown)
1 tablespoon vanilla (or to taste)
1/3 cup white sugar
2 cup sifted all purposed flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste)
1 teaspoon salt
1 small jar of your favorite jam or jelly (I like the blackberry or lemon-honey jelly from Four Dragons Farms)
Ingredients for lime glaze:
2 limes worth of zest and juice
1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar

Cream butter with a whisk or an electric mixer until light and fluffy (similar to frosting) whilst gradually adding the brown and white sugar. Add vanilla and mix until integrated.

In a separate bowl whisk together both kinds of flour, cinnamon, and salt.
Cake flour makes the cookies fluffy and light. If you prefer chewier cookies, then don’t sift the dry mixture or do not include cake flour.

Add dry mixture to the wet with a sifter. Do this in gradual increments so flour doesn’t fly everywhere (trust me, it is not fun to clean up so don’t skip this step)! Mix until all the ingredients are integrated; beware of over mixing!

The dough should be soft to the touch, not sticky, and taste buttery and sweet!
Let the dough chill in refrigerator covered for about two hours and begin working on your glaze!

Juice and zest 2 limes into a bowl. Gradually sift the confectioner’s sugar into the mixture until glossy and opaque. Cover and set to the side.

After two hours, preheat oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center. Prep the baking sheet by applying parchment paper to fit. Remove dough from fridge and use your hands to make 1-inch balls. Press thumb into the center of each cookie making a deep indentation, but not deep enough to reach the pan underneath.

Put about a 1/4 teaspoon of jam or jelly into each hole, or enough to fill it without it sticking out of the top.

Bake cookie at 350 for about 14-18 minutes, wait until completely cooled, glaze (I like to do it with a piping bag), share and enjoy!

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