“Even during my vacations, I just love to cook,” says Caroline Schiff, a chef at Gage & Tollner, a well-known oyster and chop house in Brooklyn. “I was talking to my mom, and she said, ‘Thanks, you’ll be so tired from work, we’re inviting you with pre-prepared meals. And I was like, ‘YOU CANNOT MAKE EVERYTHING FROM ME.’ ” Today, Caroline has come out with her first cookbook, The Sweet Side of Sourdough, inspired by her passion (and everyone?).
Where was your first restaurant job?
At The Good Fork in Brooklyn in 2008. I was a line cook, but I had a very sweet tooth and I wanted to be a shmancy cake maker. Sohui Kim cook / owner said, if you want to bake cookies, you need to go into the kitchen with the cookie program and the cooks and prepare. He forced me to do so, and I felt like I had been bitten by a virus. Now I have been a cook for 13 years, oh my god.
What’s the problem with your job that people can’t expect?
It’s * amazing * material. My job is to exercise; I sit at my feet all day, lifting things. My team members are always like, use your foundation! At night, I feel in my body.
In a statement to Gage & Tollner, Pete Wells of the New York Times wrote, “There are Parker House rolls, with butter and pillowy that you would like to stretch and sleep on if they had not been given scalding. Hot.”
Yes! We make Parker House scrolls every day. The bread ministry is the most important thing we do. I always hope people know that when food is more expensive, we don’t try to get someone to ride. There is love and work involved, start to finish.
Tell us about your Baked Alaska! It seems incredible.
From day one at Gage & Tollner, I was like, there has to be Alaska Cooking. It is a delightful salt of Victorian time, which takes three days to make. We mix three homemade ice cream cones – amarna cherry, small mint and dark chocolate – and they should be put in a mold overnight. We melt and chop them, then cover everything with a freshly chopped French meringue for your order. Then we burn it. I wanted it to be this amazing, bigger creature; and when it comes to your table, you may think, Wow, this is wild.
In restaurants, I always wonder if the cooks are worried if people fill up with salt.
At Gage & Tollner, this does not happen. You have indications of how many people can order salt, but what was said was revealed in the water.
Why do you think that is so?
People here see food as a drama, and you will not come out before the third act. It’s too cold to make spices here. When I was six years old, I was mentally disturbed and walked past a bakery or ice cream shop; I wish I could go back and tell my little boy, Well, do this to make money.
Regarding nature, tell us about your amazing hair.
My hair has always been great. My mother has it too. I figured out how to pile it on top of my head with one of these big nails, and I wrapped it in caves in the kitchen. I like that it’s something people know about me.
Do you wear hoodies all the time?
At my brother’s wedding, the stylist harassed me, and I became like a dog when you take him to the groom, and he snorts. I immediately went home on the subway and took a shower.
What beautiful things are always in your bathroom?
I use sunscreen every day. If I wear it, my favorite is black eyeliner and black mascara. I still buy the same one I bought in high school – a Maybelline high-end drugstore.
What about skincare?
Working in the kitchen, I end the day with a film of flour on my face. So, once a week, I go out with Fresh Sugar Polish to get the powder out of the pores!
What else makes you feel good?
I never took off my bat mitzvah necklace, which is the Star of David. It’s been on my body for a long time in my life.
Thank you so much for your new book, The Sweet Side of Sourdough, which is coming out today.
My scourge, my son! The cookbook reveals all the delicious things you can make with sour ingredients.
What inspired you to write about sour powder?
Gage & Tollner is due to open on March 15, 2020. After an emergency break, I thought I would not allow the sour taste of the restaurant to die, so I took her home for a couple of weeks. So, I make bread at home, but I kind of get frustrated because you can eat too much bread. I was thinking, what else can I do with this sour cross element?
Ooh, what did you bring back?
I started adding to the pie dough and cookies. Then came babka, stickers, donuts, chocolate cakes, fig brownies. Every secret is something I did at a very dark time for everyone, and it was a way to feed people. I can send messages to my friends, Climb up and throw your focaccia or I dropped the biscuits in your mailbox. I would leave cookies in the basement and text the neighbors’ message on the radiator in the lobby.
This is casual, but I’m curious: What do you think of The Great Britain Baking Show? My sister doctor hates many medical manifestations.
Cooking shows miraculously gives me strange worries. I am like, You are not cooking long enough! I love watching The Office because it would not be so different from my country.
In your career, have you ever felt hopeless and persistent?
Absolutely. When you are trying to achieve a goal, it can be a rollercoaster mind. For some months, I have been working on my own without making any money and feeling like a failure and thinking, What am I doing? What is wrong with me? I am terrified, I will never find a job again. That moment you start circling.
At restaurants like Gage & Tollner, what can eaters do to show appreciation for the cook?
Positive comments mean world. If someone tells me they love my coconut cake, I’m dead. Dead. If a waiter says he wants to meet me, I go and say hello. I love going to the dining room and seeing everyone chatting and having their moments. Honestly, I’m on the verge of extinction.
Thank you so much, Caroline!
PS More beautiful uniforms, plus a comedian and expert cookbook.
(Andrew-Bezek top photo. Photos cooked in a blue sweatshirt by Gabby Jones. Photo in front of the desk with a yellow plate by Yumi-Matsuo. Pictures of a black t-shirt by Lanna-Apisukh. Photo in the kitchen with a drink by Nancy Borowick. )
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