Samm Sherman, pastry chef of Linger and Root Down: "I'm on the doughnut bandwagon"
2030 West 30th Avenue
1600 West 33rd Avenue
8500 Peña Boulevard (DIA)
This is part two of my interview with Samm Sherman, pastry chef of Root Down and Linger; part one of my chat with Sherman ran yesterday.
Your five favorite Denver/Boulder restaurants for sweets and/or pastries other than your own:
The Kitchen, because the pot au chocolat changed my life; ChoLon, because I really like their style, they put a lot of love and thought into their pastries, and everything I've eaten there has been beautiful; the vanilla frozen custard at Good Times, which I discovered while I was pregnant; the Thai boba at New Saigon; and anywhere that has a really good, old-fashioned doughnut. Yes, I'm on the doughnut bandwagon.
Who's the most underrated pastry chef in Denver?
I don't know who's necessarily underrated, but I do know that I have some pretty great people working in my pastry departments right now, and I'm excited to see what they do...but not for a couple more years, please.
What specific requests would you make of Denver diners?
Eat dessert, please, because if you don't, my sweet little baby might not be able to go to college.
Weirdest customer request:
I made a cake for an engagement party a few months ago, and the couple asked for a picture on the cake of the groom lifting the bride over his head; that was strange and challenging.
Best baking tip for a home cook:
Take your food seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously. That's a quote from Justin Cucci.
How does Justin Cucci's menu influence your desserts?
Root Down and Linger's menus greatly influence my own. I really respect all the chefs I work with, and I'm always throwing around ideas with them and asking them to be my taste testers, which is a hard job, but most of the time they're willing to help me out. I want our menus to be one cohesive unit that represents the restaurants, not me or them.
Is having a pastry chef separate from the executive chef important in a restaurant?
I think so, though I may be biased. Pastry chefs usually have a very different personality from the executive chef. I'd like to think that in our kitchens, I'm not just someone in charge of sweets, but a woman who's there to use my feminine magic to balance out some of those crazy boys.
What's your fantasy splurge?
A dough sheeter would make it so much easier to make fresh croissants. Yum.
Favorite culinary-related gift you've been given:
The Flavor Bible. It's a great book of ideas that really inspires me.
Favorite culinary-related item to give as a gift:
The Flavor Bible. I use it so much that I feel like every cook -- professional and otherwise -- should have a copy.
What cookbooks and/or food-related reading material do you draw inspiration from?
Right now, I go to the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, by Christina Tosi, for flavor ideas, but I have a lot of cookbooks, so my favorites change frequently. When I'm looking on the Internet for inspiration, I have a few favorites, including Michael Laiskonis, Le Bernardin's former pastry chef.
What advice would you give to an aspiring young pastry chef?
Get into a kitchen. Whether you take the pastry-school path, like I did, or go to the "school of hard knocks," just get in a kitchen -- not just to see if it's truly the path you want to take, but to gain experience and get your name out there. When I was going to school, I was constantly calling chefs to see if I could come work for a day or two in their kitchen. I was terrified every time I walked in, and I messed up a few times, but I had that much more experience when it was time for the real deal.
What's your biggest challenge as a pastry chef working in Denver?
My biggest challenge right now is being a new mother and working in the kitchen of three extremely busy restaurants. This career choice is not super-conducive to having a family, but I really want to make it work.
What's your biggest pet peeve?
Not scraping containers until they're empty. Come on: Use that rubber spatula.
Your best traits:
I'm good at communicating, which means I talk a lot.
Your worst traits:
Sometimes I communicate too much.
If you could train under any pastry chef in the world, who would it be?
Francisco Migoya, the owner of Hudson Chocolates, would be a really interesting chef to work under. His desserts are so unique, and just to see how he works, along with gaining insight into his creative process, would be a great experience.
If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open?
I'd open a French-ish bakery, something reminiscent of Tartine or Miette in San Francisco. I'd also love to do something with doughnuts, but I think I need to do that one quick, since it seems to be getting popular.
Craziest night in the kitchen:
The first night of Denver Restaurant Week has gotten to me a few times. Getting prepped to have every person who walks in the door order dessert for two straight weeks in a row makes for some long days and crazy nights. When it does get crazy, I usually take a break or two in the crying room, aka the walk-in.
Worst dessert disaster:
When I was on the Food Network's Sweet Genius, I had to have all my recipes memorized. In the candy round, I was planning to make a gummy candy using agar, but I forgot the correct amount and ended up using not nearly enough. The gummy didn't set at all and was a liquidy mess. Luckily, that disaster was broadcast on national TV.
Greatest accomplishment as a pastry chef:
Being a pastry chef at Root Down and Linger. I pinch myself every day when I think about the fact that this is my career -- that Justin gave me a chance and that I've made it four years and counting.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
Believe it or not, I didn't make the cheerleading team in high school, and I've never done any professional modeling.
What's the secret to baking bread?
Find someone else to do it.
If you hadn't become a pastry chef, what would you be right now?
A teacher who incorporates food into the curriculum. Whenever the opportunity comes up to teach, I embrace it.
How many people really do order dessert first?
Not nearly enough.
Last dessert before you die:
I'd probably go back for one last pot au chocolat from the Kitchen, or I'd demolish a box of Dots.
What's in the pipeline?
Just figuring out this whole having-a-baby-while-working-in-a-professional-kitchen thing. I have a feeling that new projects are going to keep me busy for a while, and after that, I'll be involved in whatever Justin throws my way. I'm also working on buttoning my chef's coat all the way.
What's next for Denver's culinary scene?
Doughnuts, cronuts and foughnuts.
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