by Leah Bhabha
For chefs, meals take myriad forms, from a spoonful of a dish in development to a crust swiped off the line during service to an overflowing plate eaten hurriedly during staff meal. So when they’re given larger pockets of time and the freedom to savor breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it’s a real event. Pre-COVID-19, hours or weeks away from the kitchen meant sitting at the table with family or flying across the country or world to try the creations of contemporaries.
Without the bounds of time, stomach capacity, or the current pandemic, where would chefs eat? We asked them. Introducing My Perfect Food Day, a monthly feature where industry members share the tables they’d visit and the dishes they’d savor in varied locales.
This month, in honor of our bakeware launch, we’re featuring pastry chef Erika Chan, the co-founder of Brite Donuts and Baked Goods, which opened in Chicago’s Fulton Market in late 2020. Chan, who has had previous stints at The Publican, L’Espalier, and Asta, covered a lot of sweet ground, from diner blueberry pancakes to dim sum egg tarts and a snack of ice cream. But, she made time for some savory detours, including cheese at the now-closed Blackbird, huevos rancheros in L.A., and a late-night Bavarian pretzel.
Blueberry pancakes at The Watertown Diner in Watertown, MA.
- They are incredible and indescribably good. The cute, old-school diner also sells their pancake mix. A sleeper is the griddled blueberry muffin, but every time I go in and don’t order the blueberry pancakes, I realize what a terrible mistake I've made.
Huevos Rancheros at Huckleberry in L.A.
- Huckleberry was the first bakery I walked into and was jealous that it wasn't my own. While they have a beautiful pastry case, their savory plated breakfasts are particularly great, and this would be my savory course.
(photo courtesy of @huckcafe)
Dim Sum at Joy Luck in Cupertino, CA.
- Then, it’s time for dim sum. Fun sweets include what my family called "sponge," which is basically a steamed glutinous sticky cake that is sour and sweet and looks like a sponge. I have no idea what it is called in English or any Chinese dialect. Flaky egg tarts are another favorite.
Tea at L'Espalier (formerly in Boston, MA)
- Does time travel work as well during this made-up world? Although the restaurant, unfortunately, closed a few years ago, we used to do an awesome tea service on weekends. I spent two years learning as a pastry cook there and, while tea services from the kitchen were often a hot mess, they were intricate, classic, and so well done—such a dying art form! We had an amazing tea sommelier named Cynthia, who curated the teas. I wish I could go back to the dining room side for some tea.
Ice cream snack at Bedford Farms in Bedford, MA
- It's a typical ice cream farmstand in Massachusetts where the kiddie portion is the size of my head, and chocolate sprinkles are called jimmies. For me, it’s a toss-up between the Cherry Bomb (sort of like Ben & Jerry’s) and the Peppermint Stick (no chocolate chips— in the best way possible).
Dumpster pizza at The Upper Crust in Lexington, MA
- After they close, they place PERFECTLY untouched pizza INSIDE boxes in the dumpster. If you're lucky, you'll get an uncut pie that you can eat whole.
Cheese at Blackbird (formerly in Chicago, IL)
- When it was open (again, is time travel a thing?), the pastry chef Nicole Guini put together an awesome cheese program. It was fun to go there for drinks and cheese—I love cheese for dessert.
Drinks at Backbar in Cambridge, MA
- It’s a super-fun bar that’s comfy and hipster in the least annoying way. The drinks are so good.
Pretzel in Bavaria, Germany
- Hopefully, I’d end the night somewhere in Germany with a huge Bavarian pretzel! I really like to end my night with a large piece (or loaf) of bread.
(photo courtesy of @backbarunion)