Paparch’s Instagram overflows with two specific phrases, which avalanche down the side of every image within minutes of the bakery posting it. The phrases—“We’re a match!” and “I want!”—are like passwords. For the fastest commenters, the door these words unlock is a Direct Message from Paparch popping up in their inbox, asking if they’d like to have one of the bakery’s extra cheesecakes delivered to them in a few days’ time.
For a customer base so large and fervent, the chance to jump the queue and get their hands on one of the most coveted cakes in Singapore is tantalising. So when Paparch has a few hundred extra cakes, the bakery will ask if anyone wants one. Literally thousands do. Most will chant the phrase in the comment section and be turned away at the door, but the attempt was all, and they’ll try again next time.
The cake in question is the only item on the menu. “I believe in doing one thing, and doing it well,” Paparch’s baker says. At a robust seven inches, the cheesecake’s scorched top and molten heart is certainly a match made in heaven, whether it arrives at your doorstep in Matcha or Original variety. The baker uses three different cheeses when whipping up cakes in his home kitchen. There’s cream cheese… and the other two are a secret, he says. After the months he’s put into painstakingly perfecting the recipe, it is understandable he’d be protective of it. Some things are perhaps better left to the imagination.
Like the baker himself—a one-man dream team known only as Lufi. He’s never publicly revealed his face. Paparch’s website proclaims that, “Our baker wishes to remain anonymous—for now. He’s a shy one, but we’re working on getting him to reveal himself to you real soon.” Lufi doesn’t believe that choosing to remain anonymous makes for a narrative of mystery or intrigue surrounding his cakes. When Paparch launched, it didn’t seem important to market his name alongside his cakes. Now that the brand is popular enough to warrant the occasional curious probe into his identity, he still doesn’t want the spotlight on him. For Lufi, though, it’s not really about being shy; it’s more a matter of where he wants to pull focus. “I want it to be about the cakes,” he says. “Not me.”
There’s good reason to stay on the ball. The Basque burnt cheesecake scene in Singapore, as it were, is “actually quite competitive,” according to Lufi. The dessert was invented 30 years ago in San Sebastian, Spain, but only emerged in Singapore in any meaningful way a little over a year ago. It only truly blew up as a celebrity of home delivery and the home-bake of choice in the early months of 2020, as the circuit breaker period was setting in. Now, it seems like you can’t walk 10 feet in any direction without being lambasted by a dessert menu trumpeting it as its star player. Standing out from the pack is not only suggested, but necessary for survival.
Nevertheless, after biting into a slice of Paparch’s cheesecake, one might be curious about the person standing behind them, just off-camera. To help keep the focus on the desserts, we’ll sketch just the faintest outlines of the baker behind them: Lufi isn’t a pastry chef or dessert specialist by training. After training as a chef locally, he found work in a restaurant (and is obliquely unwilling to name either school or workplace), but always loved best what came after the main course. His favourite dessert has been cheesecake for years, and was always on the hunt for good examples. “The best, I found, was a cross between the classic New York style and an ice cream cheesecake,” he says.
He stumbled across the Basque burnt cheesecake for the first time online, and decided to dive into perfecting his own recipe last December. “It was months of trial and error,” he says, “to find that sweet spot between the burnt, caramelly top and molten centre.”
Lufi experimented with existing recipes, tinkering with the outside-inside texture combination and making infinitesimal adjustments. He was dogged about pursuing the perfect cheesecake, trying to pull out of the oven the same cake he saw in his dreams. “I’m low-key a bit of a perfectionist,” he says. It’s the same reason there’s only one Paparch baker. The larger team—those who help to market, design, deliver, and curate the brand—are mostly plucked from an inside circle of trusted friends and family, but Lufi is still (for now) the only cook allowed in his kitchen.
The result—that je ne sais quoi of their cakes that Paparch has identified for themselves as the “sweet, melted ooze”—was rolled out to the public in February. Success came gradually, rather than all at once, but once the pandemic began mandating lockdowns and closures, demand spiked. Lufi believes that the future of not just his own business but the whole food and beverage industry is the “order online, consume at home” model.
He’s not the only one who thinks that. Increasingly popular are “cloud kitchens,” businesses built around the idea of delivery rather than sit-down service. A downside of this kind of restaurant, one might say, is the lack of face-to-face interaction diners have with the people feeding them. But while Paparch may not have a face, it’s known to its customers. Paparch is a Muslim-owned bakery using all halal ingredients. The name comes from the signature parchment that each cheesecake comes lovingly swathed in.
More than that, though, Lufi has devoted nearly as much time to building his bakery’s online presence as he has to hashing out his recipe. The company cracks wise and uses all kinds of emojis on its Instagram (the “praise hands” emoji is a particular mainstay fixture). Paparch’s aesthetic is warm and inviting; its packaging minimalist and homey. You may not be speaking in-person and directly to the guy who baked your dessert, but he’s talking to you nonetheless, and he sees you. We’ll never lose dine-in service; that would be like having lost stairs for escalators or printed books for e-readers. But it heralds a radically new and (given social distancing) very welcome form of service and business model in the food and beverage industry.
What really separates Paparch from the others, Lufi thinks, is his consistent pursuit of perfection. “It’s delicious because of the time taken,” he says. Paparch is looking to expand—they want to open a brick-and-mortar location soon, and there’s internal talk of possibly taking the brand to Indonesia. But that’s for the future. “For now, it’s business as usual in the kitchen,” Lufi adds. “I make sure that every cheesecake that leaves the door is perfect… That means I spend the whole day on my feet. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
For more information, visit Paparch.