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Zara and Mina Packs the Flavor

By Jake Levin

One of Andreea Jamotillo's main reasons for traveling is to try new foods in new destinations.

She hasn't been able to travel much since the birth of her daughter last year, but one of her last trips to Oahu, Hawaii, gave her plenty of inspiration to keep experimenting with flavors at Zara and Mina, the bakery which she owns in San Diego, Calif.

Jamotillo comes from a family of bakers spread out across Europe, in Germany, Austria and Romania. All of the women in her family are great cooks and bakers, from which she learned how to apply her skills. Jamotillo's husband finally convinced her to open up Zara and Mina last spring, and she's glad that he did.

"As most people, I like variety, and that's what I'm able to offer," Jamotillo said, speaking specifically of her dessert offerings. "Instead of just having one type of dessert, people can try a dessert buffet, which is so much fun."

Zara and Mina, which is named after Jamotillo's two daughters, might be best known for its lavender cake; Jamotillo said that it's her favorite, hands down. She was inspired to create the cake after a trip to Eze in the south of France, where she bought dried lavender and took it home with her to San Diego.

She had plenty of it, but was unsure what to do with all of the lavender. So, Jamotillo combined it with cornmeal, a lesson she gained from a popular Italian cooking method, and the signature dish was born.

"My husband calls it a creeper, because you don't expect much when you first try it, but it creeps up on you," Jamotillo said. "It's everyone's favorite."

Jamotillo said she hopes to make a cake using papaya and mango in homage to her Hawaiian vacation. Something that's incredibly fruity and reminiscent of the tropics, she said, but also something that's good for you.

"Everything is so fresh and exotic there, I love it," she said of the Hawaiian paradise. "Their fruit is so perfumed, in a good way, and it just makes you want to eat healthy."

Zara and Mina's dessert tables are perfect for any event, Jamotillo believes, thanks to a homey and rustic feel to all of the dishes.

The choices are numerous, between salted caramel brownies, Russian poppy seed cakes, tres leches cupcakes, pineapple cupcakes, peanut butter and jelly cookies, and plenty more.

"How can you say no to that?" Jamotillo said. "First impressions are just as important as last impressions, which we take to heart. It doesn't matter what the occasion is, we're there to make sure people's last impression is the awesome desserts."

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