Pastries and ceramics bind a Swannanoa couple together

Roberta Binder
Special to The Black Mountain News

When two respected artisans – ceramic artist Akira Satake and pastry chef Cynthia Pierce – settled in Swannanoa, there had already been long, winding and interesting journeys behind them. Akira's began in Osaka, Japan, and Cynthia's in Brooklyn, New York.

Part of those journeys will be on view during the annual studio stroll in Asheville's River Arts District May 9-10. The couple will open their gallery - Yuzu Patisserie and Akira Satake Ceramics in The Cotton Mill Studios, 122 Riverside Drive, Studio C – for the stroll. And some of that journey is right here.

In 1983, Akira, who was interested in American culture, landed in San Francisco. A photographer, he easily found a position in San Francisco which was fun. But he had the itch to travel and soon set out for New York City. An excellent musician (now and again you can catch him at White Horse Black Mountain), one day he was playing banjo in Washington Square Park in Manhattan, and, he said, "it seemed like only a few hours later I was invited to join a band with Jim Lauderdale and Larry Campbell, both Grammy winners. We were young, and they were top musicians in New York City in their genre."

Cynthia has always been attracted to baking. "My grandfather was a chef in Germany and later in New York City; it was kind of in my blood," she said. "Actually, I'm a cooking school dropout, but I worked in several great catering companies and bakeries in New York City. When we moved, I was fortunate to get a job making desserts at The Market Place in Asheville. In '09, I stepped out on my own."

Cynthia believes in building relationships with local farmers to obtain the freshest seasonal produce. She uses organic ingredients whenever possible and finds inspiration in German, French and Austrian baking. With Akira's influence, Japanese ingredients have also found their way into her tasty creations.

The two met in New York and married in 1995, at which time Akira was a music producer for a record company. Working long and crazy hours, he realized he needed something else. His search lead him to the potters wheel, where he found great peace and an amazing talent. "I was so stressed, I had to find a more meditational thing to get some rest away from the stress. I thought a bit and came up with, 'What about pottery?'

"That was 14 years ago. I went to a three-hour class every week. The first night I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect.' I came back to my apartment with a bag of clay and just started making pots when I couldn't sleep."

Living and working in Brooklyn was not very conducive for Akira's growing pottery recognition and business, leading the couple, along with daughter Isa (now a student in the SILSA Program at Asheville High) to explore other options in 2003. They didn't set out for WNC. They were researching places on the Internet, and about the same time Cynthia reconnected with a cousin who lived in Asheville.

"Asheville was a popular place for artists," Cynthia recalled. "The quality of life here was great, and the climate was better than NYC. We wanted a home where Akira could have his kiln and a studio, a place where we could enjoy nature. We came for a visit in the spring – the flowers and trees, the clean air. Through my cousin's husband, who teaches at Warren Wilson (College), the word was out and … very soon the perfect home for our family was found in Swannanoa. We were settled in the beautiful mountains in January 2004."

"I love the views," Akira said. "(The area) is just so full of the beauty of the mountains. I was smitten by it." And WNC has been welcoming to Akira's work, which can be found at Dobra Tea in Black Mountain and several other locations in Asheville.

The couple opened their business in 2013. You can also see their work at akirasatake.com and yuzubycynthia.com.