I have the biggest pastry crush on Kim Mahar. There. I said it. Neil Robertson may make croissants that are dreamy butter marvels, but this interview is basically about two fans getting really excited about their favorite things, sugar and chocolate.
She makes amber glass, caramel-loaded chocolate ice cream, and dehydrated mousse, and is simply excited about it all every day. Even during the interview, I talked about my habit of balancing food on my head, and she offered to make a custom dessert for me to balance on my head the next time. That’s how awesome Kim is.
Yes, I can share this crush. Go to RN74 and see what I mean.
Jessica Tupper: So what’s your culinary background?
Kim Mahar: In 1992 I graduated from college with a BA in fine arts, and then I got into the glass industry for many years, teaching glassblowing, fusing, casting, every type of 3D glass art you can think of.
I was interested in learning how to blow sugar, so I started researching that, ended up on a tour going through the Seattle Culinary Academy, watching what all the students were doing, and I thought “this is fantastic.” So I decided to sign up for school, and it was incredible. I’m in the culinary industry instead of the glass arts industry but still an artist – an artist working as pastry chef.
A lot of things that I like to do that are influenced by my creative artistry background are dimension, luminescence, conducting light, positive and negative spaces on a plate. We have a heavy emphasis on composition and also flavor profile. The flavor profile has got to absolutely match up to how spectacular the plate looks. First you bite with the eye, second bite has to just kill it, right?
JT: So are you given free rein for this restaurant, or is there any work with the head Mina Group culinary chef?
KM: I have a corporate executive pastry chef, his name’s Lincoln Carson. He came in and helped me open, and now the menus are all mine. But he’s my cheerleader, my resource. We’ll just talk back and forth and unfold ideas and it’s pretty fantastic. And that’s what happens with the Mina Group. All of us here have this resource, the corporate group, that we can use as a resource and reference and it works.
JT: What’s the creative process like for you in terms of designing a new dessert?
KM: I spend an awful lot of time outside of here studying – I call it studying. Looking in books, on the internet, following chefs I like, always looking things up and getting inspired. When I was teaching, I taught a lot of glass classes, and I would say in every class, “What we’re doing for each other in the world is inspiring each other by what we create.” And the greatest thing you can do is take that inspiration and then make it your own.
Like the otter pops and about the jalapeno lemonade flavor – that was from a margarita I had that I thought was so clever and fantastic. Mixology and that whole movement is a great place to study flavor profiles because they are so exceptionally creative. I go home and study all the time, nose in books. That’s what you have to do in this industry to keep going and keep with the times and movements. And to keep your stuff fresh, you gotta keep going.
And usually what happens is it doesn’t necessarily happen in an instant, it usually happens in the middle of the night, where it’s in my dreams and all of a sudden at 4 am I go “I got it” and it’s completely figured out in my mind’s eye and then my hands just execute the final product.
JT: So who would want to invite to dinner if you hosted a pastry night for four people?
KM: I’m going to answer this a couple times. First I’m gonna say it would have to be my family, but I’d have to add a chair, ‘cause there are five. They’re my most inspiring people in my life, more than famous people.
Family’s already invited, so who’s next? I’m gonna go with people that I’ve noticed and stick in my mind’s eye as “Ooh, that’d be really cool to meet that person.” Marion Cunningham – that would be incredible. She was James Beard’s best buddy, that’d be great. And if she was cooking, she does waffles that are supposed to be super bomb – and that would be a blast.
Who else? I’ve always been really inspired by Elizabeth Faulkner of Citizen Cake. She’s really one of the good pioneers in all this modern cuisine. And she has a fine arts degree. Our stories kind of parallel a little bit. I find her very inspiring. Who else… ooh, Ellen. Ellen Degeneres. We’d have to make her cook just because it would probably be funny. And then my mom, because she would love meeting all of them.
And I would absolutely bring our corporate executive pastry chef, Lincoln Carson. He’s phenomenal. And like I said before, a fantastic cheerleader and support and resource. Exceptionally talented.
JT: Do you have any advice for talking to people who are afraid of baking?
KM: Do things that challenge yourself. Do things that make you scared. That’s where you grow. There is no way any artist makes a gallery piece every single time they make something. You make a lot of duds. And soon as you can be brave enough to be like, ‘this is part of my learning process, because out of 50 of these one’s gonna be a showstopper’ – that’s where you can end up making things at home that are wonderful. Be brave to bomb it out and your family and kids are gonna love it.
JT: What’s on the horizon for the RN74 dessert menu?
KM: I always have a list going of potential new things. And it’s often they’re things that are challenging – like a Rum Baba, I’ve never made one before. So let’s challenge ourselves; we’re gonna master it. We’re gonna test a whole slew of recipes and get one that really knocks our socks off. And that’s what I’ve got my team for, and we do it together, and I absolutely value their opinions. We collaborate, and we’re always challenging each other that way, moving forward. And Lauren will come in, and she’ll say, “Chef, I was thinking about Bailey’s blah blah blah,” and I’ll go “Oh my god, let’s do this!”
JT: Is there anything we should know about RN74 that’s coming up?
KM: In August we are doing a menu to celebrate what would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday, and it will be a pre-fixe menu that runs all month long, and all our dishes will be inspired by her and her favorite dishes. And I am so excited by it! One hundred years old. We’re gonna have a ball with this all month. You have to come.
JT: I will! I can’t not come; it sounds too awesome.
KM: And she loved French culinary. Perfect opportunity for us to celebrate her. Who does not love her? She is too wonderful. She could come to my pastry party too; you know she’d be so fun.
Go visit Kim at RN74 at1433 4th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101. Reservations: 206-456-7474.