Once Lena Sareini puts an item on the menu, she’ll never repeat it again. This, of course, causes distress to patrons who first try and then become obsessed with Sareini’s creations. She regularly gets emails, asking her to bring back favorites like the popular peach pavlova, a meringue, brandy cream, and lemon shortbread crumble concoction with both fresh and caramelized peaches.
“I am always working on new things, that’s my favorite part of the craft,” she says, “There’s always something out there that I haven’t done yet and that I can learn.”
Sareini, 25, is the pastry chef at Selden Standard. Founded by co-owners Andy Hollyday and Evan Hansen in 2014, the locally-sourced New American eatery is now one of Detroit’s best and most beloved restaurants in a rapidly booming food scene becoming well known far beyond the city’s borders.
The pastry chef’s distinct culinary touch blends her classical training and Lebanese-American heritage to bring dishes to the menu like goat cheese kanafeh accompanied by pistachio, blood orange, and tarragon and chocolate covered halawa paired with tahini caramel, candied chickpeas, and feuilletine, crispy flakes traditionally used in French pastry.
Born and raised in Dearborn, Michigan, Sareini graduated in 2013 from the culinary baking and pastry arts program at Schoolcraft College, where she learned classic and contemporary French pastry. She soon transitioned from student to teacher, working as an assistant to the pastry teacher and writing the dessert menu for American Harvest, the culinary student-run restaurant located on campus.
“I learned more on the job than I did in the program,” she says. “When you get to teach a craft, you hold it in longer.”
Sareini applied to Selden Standard on a whim and made it through three rounds of interviews, including a chance to showcase her skills in the kitchen. She made a Meyer lemon tart with a chocolate lavender ganache and wild berry sorbet. It sealed the deal.
“When Evan finished, he actually picked up the place and licked it — that’s when I knew I had it in the bag,” she says.
Always on the lookout for balance and what is going to make eaters to take the next bite, Sareini often starts off with one ingredient and then picks out other additions to accentuate and add to the flavor — the blood orange and tarragon detail on the goat cheese kanafeh for example.
Her most recent addition to the Selden menu, a honey lavender tart made with kalamata olive dough, reflects that same ambition she’s always had from the beginning — to infuse a bit of art into food.
“At a restaurant, you’re no longer eating to be alive, it’s now a luxury, so you want an experience when you’re eating,” she says. “I just want to take people on that food journey, to stop and think about the bite they’re taking, the layers of flavor and the story behind them and what kind of work went into making that dish.”
Lena Sareini is the pastry chef at Selden Standard in Detroit, MI.
Liana Aghajanian is a writer and journalist.
Ed note: Lena Sareini was also recently featured in the premiere of No Passport Required, a new show Eater produced for PBS. Watch the full episode here and see Sareini in a clip below.