Michelle Polzine

Michelle Polzine is a pastry chef and former owner of San Francisco’s 20th Century Cafe. Her acclaimed cookbook, Baking at the 20th Century Cafe (2020), celebrates the iconic Eastern European desserts that catapulted Polzine into the national spotlight. She is known for her Linzer Tortes and statuesque signature Russian Honey Cake.


Michelle Polzine was a 22-year-old burnt-out ex-political canvasser from California when she landed a job as a dishwasher at Pyewacket in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It was not exactly the career path she had envisioned, but she found herself learning how to cook and bake from "a bunch of over-educated awesome hippie guys" who eventually gave her a shot at working the dessert station. Michelle honed her baking skills working at two restaurants in Durham before being offered the pastry chef position at Elaine’s in Chapel Hill. She moved back to San Francisco in 2002 and worked at several esteemed restaurants, including Bacar, Delfina, and Chez Panisse, then settled in at Range, where she began to make a name for herself. Inspired by the Hungarian tortes introduced to her by a pastry assistant, Polzine became fascinated with Eastern European cafe culture and desserts, even traveling to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. 20th Century was the realization of her dream to open a mini version of a classic Austro-Hungarian grand cafe. A personal health crisis coinciding with the pandemic shutdown forced Polzine to permanently close the popular cafe in 2020.

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