Pastry Chef Katie Rosenhouse didn’t follow a traditional career path. After starting her career in the illustrious kitchens of Le Cirque, Bouley, and The Russian Tea Room (among others), she took over as Executive Pastry Chef for the David Burke group. But after appearing on – and winning – an episode of “Sweet Genius” on The Food Network, she was hired to work on the show, so she left restaurant life behind. This past February, she opened the doors of her own business, the Buttermilk Bakeshop, for the first time.
One blustery, snowy day, we headed to Brooklyn to talk to Katie about her journey and her life, and get a little taste of what the Buttermilk Bake Shop has to offer.
CC: You were extremely successful in your restaurant career. What made you decide to give that up and open your own shop?
“I always wanted to have my own shop. I think that was kind of like, working in restaurants and all that was more of the idea of getting training. But I think the ultimate goal was always to have a business that I own. “
CC: Is there anything that you miss about working in restaurants?
“No. [Laughs] Definitely not. Restaurant life is, it’s just so much harder. Not that this hasn’t been hard. But working in a restaurant is pretty tough. So no, I don’t really miss it. But I do miss how much you get to experience along the way. I think it’s really fun being young, and being a chef in a kitchen in a restaurant is exciting, and it’s very creative, and I think it’s necessary for anyone who’s really interested in cooking and wants to get great training. I feel like working in a restaurant is so much better than culinary school.”
CC: What was the reaction when you told them you were leaving the restaurant business to open a bake shop?
“Well there was a kind of transition period. I left the restaurant world and then started working on the show, “Sweet Genius.” That was the transition. And then after “Sweet Genius,” I started teaching. And then after teaching, I opened my own business. So it was like a little bit of an interesting transition happening.”
CC: What was it like doing “Sweet Genius”? Was it stressful?
“It was stressful. Yeah, the time was very stressful. I did “Chopped” first, the first episode ever [when] I was 21, and I was totally just not prepared for “Chopped.” And that was scary. I came in second [place] on “Chopped.” And then I went on “Sweet Genius” two years later, and by then, you’re like, “Okay, I know what this is,” but [it’s] still, totally scary ridiculous. Very difficult. And then I actually started working on the show afterwards, so then I saw it from the other direction, of “Look how mean this is, just watching them do this.”
CC: Do you feel bad for the contestants?
“I do feel bad for them, all the time. I think I was like the only one who felt bad for them, ‘cause I understood. And [producers] were like, “This is great! Look how stressed they are!” I was like, “Yeah! It’s terrible!”
CC: Do you remember your ingredients from “Chopped”?
“It was definitely octopus, and duck breast, and I know I had animal crackers in the dessert round. And I think like cream cheese, or something?”
CC: So what did you make for dessert?
“I actually made a graham cracker semifreddo with a cream cheese like whipped thing inside or something. An animal cracker semifreddo! And then it didn’t freeze fast enough, so it was too soupy. And then I lost. “
CC: Do you watch any cooking shows?
“I used to watch “Top Chef,” because I felt that was really a true … there were a lot of really high level chefs. Some of the other shows [have] people who may not be as talented, but on “Top Chef,” I’m always amazed watching the stuff that they pull out. It’s really cool. I feel like it’s at the point where it’s really great for people to try to get in, and make names for themselves, and things like that; otherwise, it just seems mean. Seeing it from the other side, I know what it is, and it just seems like a really mean experience that I’d really rather not watch. It’s nice to just sit here and cook for real, to really bake something, and serve it to people that I see in front of me, and they may judge it, but I don’t win any money … no stakes. I feel like we’re very real here, and very genuine. It’s nice.”
CC: Did you enjoy teaching cooking classes?
“It was so much fun. And that made this easier, because they were recreational classes, basically for home cooks, so there were a lot of very similar people to the customers we have now. You really get a feel for what people like, and what they expect, when they’re in front of a chef, and they’re learning, and what excites them, and all that stuff. Here we have an open kitchen, so it’s a very similar vibe. People come in, and they see us cooking, and ask questions. It was a very easy transition from there, versus being in the back of a kitchen in the restaurant, and hiding. It’s a very different thing.”
CC: It must be nice to see people’s reactions now, as they’re eating your creations.
“Yeah, it’s fun. Sometimes I get nervous, because I’m like, “Oh my god, tell me they like it,” you know, but usually it’s very positive, everyone’s very happy, and we get a lot of compliments, so that’s really fun.”
CC: Do your friends hit you up for treats all the time?
“Actually, no. I don’t know why that is, that they don’t.”
CC: Maybe because they’re thoughtful.
“They are, yeah. I think my friends feel like I work too hard to ask me for things, they’re like, “Oh you work so hard, we don’t need anything.”
CC: Do they give you ideas for things they want to eat?
“No, actually. What’s wrong with these people? They don’t do that either! But they will come by every weekend. People will stop by and always buy a lot of stuff.”
CC: It’s pretty quiet in here this morning. Does it get really packed in here later in the day?
“Actually it does. On weekends, we usually have a line out front, which is nice. We’re usually baking cookies all day, and as soon as they come out, they go into the bag. Gone! Weekdays, it’s quiet, then at 4 o’clock, rush hour, people come out of the train. They come right in, so that’s a busier time. When people are around, they come. When they’re not, we’re like … hangin’.”
CC: How many cookies do you think you make in a day?
“It depends on the day. On weekends, we go through a lot. On a weekend day … just cookies? I’d say, let’s see, there are five kinds, at least 60-100 of each kind. So we go through a lot of cookies.”
CC: What’s the most fun thing for you to bake?
“The most fun thing for me to make is … everything. I think that’s the beauty of being here. We have a big variety. It’s nice to be in a place where I make whatever I want to make, and it’s my favorite thing. So I think everything has this fun quality to it.”
CC: You’re thin and trim and in shape in the middle of all this deliciousness. How do you manage that?
“What are you looking at? [Laughs] How do I manage that? I don’t know. It’s an open kitchen, so you can’t really eat in front of customers. When I was working in a real restaurant kitchen, I used to snack all the time. But now I feel like people are watching me.”
CC: Do people ask you what they should order?
“They definitely ask, and I say, “Pick the sunflower cookies.” I pick the things they might not necessarily be looking at, but I know are really good, like the apricot bar, the sunflower cookie, things like that, because everyone is automatically [thinking] Nutella cookie, monkey bun, the things that are super gooey and rich, like bread pudding. But it’s fun to get them to explore other flavors and other things that they may not be used to always having.”
CC: Do you personally have any favorite things to eat that are the total antithesis of a well-crafted baked good?
“Oh, so many things. I’d say, snack foods. I love, what are those called, Pirate’s Booty. I will go through five bags of Pirate’s Booty in one sitting. And sweets. I really like, what do I like? God, candy. All kinds of candy. Reese’s Pieces. Peanut Butter M&Ms, ‘cause they’re bigger. Chocolate covered pretzels. Anything. I’m a total snack food addict. And I like cereal, all of it. Froot Loops. It’s good! It’s tasty!”
CC: Do you have any favorite ethnic foods here that you love?
“I do love Vietnamese food. But I just really love the food that I grew up with. I think that’s always the thing that makes me the happiest. I love simple dishes, and I love real comfort food, but not heavy, just light comforting good foods, with a lot of fresh ingredients. That’s really my thing. And then I come here and indulge in sugar, it’s like the opposite. “
CC: Are there any particular food trends you don’t like, that you think are dumb?
“I find cupcakes as a whole to be kind of annoying, quite honestly. I mean, I try to do it in the best way I can possibly do it, like I feel like they’re not too sweet. They’re nice and moist. The idea of cupcakes and cake pops, I feel like it’s very American, just overly sugared. It’s just not like dessert should be. Dessert should be balanced in itself. Just like food should be balanced, dessert should have its own strength and quietness to it, and cupcakes and cake pops are not that. I’d rather they go and get like a macaroon or something else. So if I could end that, that’d be awesome. But in the meantime, we’re making them.”
CC: So, what do you do in your down time, if you have any?
“Sleep. I sleep. That’s it, that’s all. I don’t even have time to sleep, I get one day. We’re closed on Mondays, and I am like death, that’s my whole Monday. That’s it. My life is gone. But this is just the first month [of the bakery being open]. My body’s like, “What is happening right now? You need to rest.
“We go out to restaurants a lot, and just trying other people’s food is always really fun. It’s really nice to have someone serving you, which sounds bad. But to sit down and [have] somebody bring me a glass of wine, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, thank you so much. That’s amazing.’ It’s such a nice feeling.”
CC: And they clean it up, too.
“Yeah, it’s nice.”
CC: Do you like to travel? Do you get to travel?
“I don’t get to travel. I went to Paris a few years ago and I really fell in love with Paris. I’d like to go back. There’s really no time for that. But hopefully, we’ll do a little summer break here, for a few days or a week or whatever, and go someplace. “
CC: Where would you like to go that you haven’t been?
“I haven’t been to London, but that’s really not a food town. I would say, I would do a tour of Europe. I’d like to go to Amsterdam, London, Paris again. I’d like to just jump around and be very free, and just get on a train, ‘cause there’s so much structure here. I’d like to just be like, ‘I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t care.’
“Italy. I’d love to go to Italy. So many places.”
Read more about Buttermilk Bakeshop here at The Chef’s Connection.
For the record, here are the ingredients from Katie’s episode of “Chopped”:
Appetizer: baby octopus, bok choy, oyster sauce, smoked paprika
Entrée: duck breast, green onions, ginger, honey
Dessert: prunes, animal crackers, cream cheese
Find out Katie’s deep dark secret
Read about the opening of Buttermilk Bakeshop
Interview and photos by Laurie Ulster