Hello dear readers! Apologies for the long absence – and thank you for all of your kind notes! My trip to Hong Kong was very cold – record cold temperatures, I believe, and filled with family and lots of food. Hot food, preferably, to keep warm. It was difficult not to make this a 100 photo-long post, but I hope the following ones give you a taste of my visit overseas.
February 2nd, 2011 · 20 Comments · Personal, Photography, Sweet Spots, Travel
December 14th, 2010 · 11 Comments · San Francisco, Sweet Spots, Sweet Spots
One near-axiom of opening a business is that there will always be unforeseen obstacles. The trick is whether you have the agility to sidestep these pitfalls and maintain as much forward momentum as possible.
When I first learned about Tell Tale Preserve Company, the storefront was projected to open by the end of this year. However, delays in schedules and other issues have led to a revised date of early next spring.
October 27th, 2010 · 8 Comments · San Francisco, Sweet Spots, Sweet Spots
Smoked almond brittle from the November Society bag.
What’s a pastry kitchen with a not-yet-open storefront to do? You could start supplying local coffee shops with morning comestibles. You could also start a monthly sweet subscription service and provide people with a veritable bag of goodies to enjoy and hopefully become addicted to.
I think the Society bag is a cute idea and smart strategy: it serves as a tangible focus for the kitchen staff as they break in the new kitchen space, and works as a way to give the public a preview of things to come – while building a customer base. Food-based subscriptions are certainly not new, but I think in a way the success of CSA boxes and their like has primed food lovers’ appetites for increasingly sophisticated collections of artisan food products. Chocolate of the month club may be old hat, but the potential of a monthly showcase for a patisserie is, I feel, not yet fully explored. Enter the Society bag.
October 5th, 2010 · 7 Comments · San Francisco, Sweet Spots, Sweet Spots
I can’t believe BlogHer Food is in just a few days – I’m so excited to go and I hope to see many of you there! Please let me know if you’re showing up, or just come up and say “hi!” if you see me there! I look forward to meeting you all!
In other news, an explanation for my absence: I am working on a little project that is extremely exciting to me and I hope will be for you as well.
At Michael Recchiuti’s lovely chocolate and soy tasting several weeks ago, I was introduced to pastry chef William Werner (apparently this tasting turned out to be a serendipitous networking event, with numerous friends-and-colleagues of Michael in attendance).
The former pastry chef of Quince and the Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay, William is about to open his very own venture in San Francisco, the distinctively monikered Tell Tale Preserve Company (Yes, he is a fan of Edgar Allen Poe). Tell Tale will be a pâtisserie and delicatessen, serving everything from morning pastries to sandwiches, cakes to confections, and jams (I discovered the art of preserving is sort of a pet passion of William’s).
The shop is slated to open mid-November, although the pastry kitchen is already up and running and providing previews of the sweetness to come in two forms: small batch deliveries to local coffee shops Coffee Bar and Sightglass Coffee, and Tell Tale Society, a monthly bag of unique treats sent out to subscribers. Visit the company site for a sampling of what’s coming out of the kitchen.
To give you another taste of Tell Tale, I got a chance to help out last weekend at CUESA’s Sunday Supper, an annual fundraising event held at the Ferry Building that brings together local chefs, farmers, and artisans for a family-style feast. The theme this year was “The Whole Beast”, and featured main courses of a whole beast carved tableside.
As one of the dessert courses, our group plated last in the evening, leaving us plenty of time to mingle and observe the festivities. Above, dinner guests mingling in the main concourse of the Ferry Building during reception hour.
Ok, the lighting is terrible in this shot, but it's not often you get to work in a prep room with a view of the San Francisco bay.
The night ephemeral. Smoke rising from the outdoor grills where the whole beasts were being cooked.
Scenes from the kitchen inside: in the upper left corner is Greg Mindel, also of Tell Tale. I already know Greg from before: he taught the professional pastry program at Tante Marie’s after my instructor Rachel left, and then he went to SFBI to head up their professional pastry program. Both programs are ones I highly recommend, so for all of you who have questions about them that I haven’t answered, well, now is a really good time to e-mail me and I’ll pass them on to him!
William’s course was entitled Toute la Pomme, or The Whole Apple: apple terrine made from apple slices; apple cracklings made from the apple skin, dragee almonds in a gastrique of vanilla oil, maple vinegar, and muscavado; and slices of sheep’s milk cheese. The little leaf decoration is made from apple puree. P.S. That's William on the left.
While the round plates were what went out, below is the beauty shot of the dessert, on Tell Tale's custom designed plate, kind of a cross between an Alpine topographical map and artfully rumpled sheets:
After learning about Tell Tale and seeing the amazingness of the kitchen (believe me when I say it’s a really nice space), I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to do a piece on what goes into the opening of a bakery.
It’s been a couple years since I’ve written “Want to Go to Pastry School?”, but I still receive comments on it, and I still get e-mails from baking enthusiasts asking me for advice on pursuing their pastry dreams. I’m touched that all of you are sharing your passions with me, and I hope my experiences can help you get started on your own journey.
Many of the e-mails I get revolve around how to intern(stage) in a bakery or how to start one’s own bakery. To answer the first question: just ask! That’s what I did. Sometimes you’ll get turned down, but sometimes you’ll find someone like William who says yes and is also cool to work for. As for the second question, that’s pretty difficult for me to answer since I haven’t opened my own place, but I figured the next best thing is to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of one: the planning, the testing, the organizing, the decision-making, all leading up to the denouement.
It’s going to be a fun ride. So, over the next month I’ll be posting a se ries of pieces on Tell Tale Preserve Company and give you an idea of what goes into opening a bakery. I’d like to invite you to submit any questions you might have or what you’d like to see and I’ll do my best to incorporate them, as long as Tell Tale indulges me.
Please stay tuned! And I hope to see you at BlogHer Food!
September 12th, 2010 · No Comments · San Francisco, Sweet Spots, Sweet Spots
When a pre-packaged box of chocolates just won’t do, CocoaBella Chocolates comes to the rescue with their handpicked selection of chocolates from around the world. My favorites include Christopher Elbow, Marquise de Sevigne, and Valrhona.
Cocoa Bella Chocolates
2101 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
845 Market Street (Bloomingdale’s Mall)
San Francisco, CA 94103
September 9th, 2010 · 18 Comments · Events, San Francisco, SF Events, Sweet Spots
A week ago I got the opportunity to attend a most intriguing presentation and I'm eager to share the experience with you! The event was a Soy and Chocolate pairing, part of Michael Recchiuti's Taste Project where he combines his renowned chocolate with another unexpected ingredient, such as cheese, beer, or salt. As Michael explained to us, he loves learning about other food artisans and he enjoys the challenge of turning his master chocolatier's skills to a new and unknown product.
His latest discovery was Hodo Soy Beanery, an Oakland-based company dedicated to making fresh tofu. This tofu is completely different from the chalky white slabs you see in stores – its shelf life is only days long, and it tastes astonishingly rich and fresh. I've grown up eating tofu, but even I was surprised at how much of a difference there was in the flavor of fresh tofu, and how little I actually knew about the making of tofu! The founder of Hodo Soy, Minh Tsai, was also on hand at the the tasting to talk about his product.
We arrived at the Recchiuti kitchens in San Francisco to a candlelit table scattered with soybeans – elegant but whimsical, the tone of the whole event. As the guests chatted, a steady drumming we initially took to be background music grew louder and louder until we realized it was live drumming – by Michael! Michael Recchiuti is a drummer! With a guitarist husband and drummer brother-in-law, I could totally appreciate this!
I think everyone at the tasting was curious to see what Michael and Minh would do with soy and chocolate. Tofu is not an easy product to pair with chocolate, because of its high water content. Tofu will shed water as you work with it, and of course water is the natural enemy of chocolate. Michael admitted he did a lot of experimenting to discover how best to use all of Hodo Soy's soy products – tofu, soy milk, and even the rarer side products like okara and yuba (which I'll discuss below). The following is the tasting menu we experienced that day:
Soy beans given the Michael Recchiuti treatment: lightly caramelized, then dusted with wasabi and matcha. Devilishly poppable.
This was my favorite of the tasting: a custard made with soy milk, topped with a financier and fresh cherries. The financier was actually created with a "flour" of the dried pulp from pureed soybeans, called okara. It had a nutty flavor and lovely pillowy texture – all in all a really tasty combination. The custard was so silky too – reminded me a little of Japanese chawanmushi.
This appears to be a shot glass of chocolate milk, but in fact is a more complicated concoction – a mixture of hot soy milk and chilled chocolate milk swirled with caramel. The soy milk was poured over the chocolate milk right before it was served to us, resulting in an interesting ever-evolving layering of flavors. Very fun.
We then got to visit the room where Michael's chocolates are created. The majority of the space is occupied by the enrobing machine: you can see Michael and the rest of us gathered around it and a portion of the conveyor belt. A veritable yellow brick road, upon which chocolates travel, to be covered in chocolate and blow-dried to a perfect shiny finish.
Squares of tofu topped with a marzipan made from okara (who knew it was so versatile?) and ground almonds, ready to be enrobed. I think this is so emblematic of Michael's approach: he doesn't just dip tofu in chocolate, he thought of a multi-component concept that used several soy products. The soft, mild tofu against the richer, denser marizpan. Reminiscent of the chocolates with pate de fruit on top of ganache – a nice play of textures and flavors.
The tofu squares, now covered in dark chocolate and topped with a nougatine disk. Gilding the lily indeed.
This is Minh Tsai, founder of Hodo Soy Beanery, talking about the process of making tofu. He then proceeded to demonstrate how to make tofu, an eye opening process that took just minutes.
He combined a coagulant (calcium sulfate) with water and then carefully poured hot soymilk over the mix. Tsai likened the process to pouring tea – you need to pour the milk from the proper height so the force of the milk hitting the water will properly disperse the coagulant.
The mixture is stirred for a while until it begins to clump up.
The mixture is poured into a box lined with cheesecloth and covered. Then Minh pressed down on top to push out the excess water and get the tofu to consolidate. Here's the excess water coming out of the box.
In a few more minutes, a b lock of still-warm, very fresh tofu is unwrapped from the cheesecloth. Minh cut it up and we all got to have a piece – an experience very similar to eating freshly made mozzarella. I had never seen tofu made before so this was a really fascinating demonstration.
Back in the dining room, Michael enlisted the help of pastry chef William Werner to make his next dish, a take on crepes Suzette with sheets of yuba standing in for the crepes. Yuba, or tofu skin, is a soft, pliable skin that forms on top of steaming soymilk – I know it may sound strange to the Western palate but it's a delicacy – soft and richly creamy. It can be eaten fresh, as is, or cooked – often it's used as a meat substitute just like regular tofu.
Here is the yuba "crepe" wrapped around late summer peaches with a scoop of soy milk ice cream – yum! MIchael admitted this was one of his favorite dishes of the day.
I guess this tasting truly had a "Dessert First" philosophy since the savory course was served last! I really loved it though – a slice of fresh Purple Cherokee tomato topped with some silken tofu and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with cacao nibs. Very fresh and summery.
We were also sent home with some of Michael Recchiuti's burnt caramel hazelnuts and Hodo Soy's tofu as treats; so generous!
It was a thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable afternoon. I just really loved being able to hear two food enthusiasts talk about the passions that move them – the depth of their dedication and mastery of their craft was evident in every bite we took of their creations. My next post will be about my visit to the Hodo Soy Beanery, so I want to mention how amazing I think Michael Recchiuti is for creating these Taste Projects; they are truly wonderful experiences. If you get a chance to attend one, I highly recommend it – Michael is a great guy with so much knowledge to share. Another reason to go is that all of these dishes are one-offs for the tasting and you can't get them at his retail store – although I'm hoping for a reappearance of those wasabi-and-matcha soybeans in the future!
If you're looking to try some of Michael's Recchiuti's chocolates, I highly recommend anything with burnt caramel – one of his signature flavors, or one his takes on classic favorites, like his whoopie pies or peanut butter pucks. San Francisco is a great place for the chocolate lover!