Special Sauce: Kenji on Pizza Dough; Amy Scherber and Melissa Weller on the Business of Baking

Headshots of Amy Scherber and Melissa Weller[Amy Scherber photograph: Buck Ennis. Melissa Weller photograph: Courtesy to High Street on Hudson. Bread photograph: Vicky Wasik.]

This week's Special Sauce episode unintentionally turned into a carb fest. Although I knew I was having on a couple of the finest bakers in the land—Amy Scherber, the founder of Amy's Bread, and Melissa Weller, a baker and partner at High Street on Hudson—I had not anticipated that the other segments of the show would have a similarly starchy focus.

But let's start with the bread-bakers: Scherber founded Amy's Bread way back in 1992, and it was one of the first artisanal bread-baking businesses in New York City, established long before "artisanal" became such a ubiquitous marketing term. Weller, who used to be the head baker at Per Se and has overseen a number of well-regarded baking operations around New York, is now turning out some of the finest bagels in the city (and that's saying something). The two of them gave me some much-needed insight into what it was like to earn their chef stripes in all-male kitchens and, more importantly, what it takes to finally say, "Screw it!" and start your own business.

In the advice portions of the episode, Kenji fields a question from Serious Eater Melissa Staricha about the food processor he uses for his New York-style pizza dough, which sends him on a Kenji-like riff about enzymes and autolysis and how to make good pizza. And, finally, just in time for the holidays, Daniel Gritzer offers some advice for how to make mashed potatoes way ahead of time and "still have them hit the table as good as new."

Kenji on pizza dough, Amy Scherber and Melissa Weller on their paths to bread-and-pastry entrepreneurship, and Gritzer on making mashed potatoes in advance to ease your holiday cooking stress. As someone on a low-carb diet at the moment, I have to say this episode of Special Sauce is an exquisite and yet thoroughly enjoyable form of torture.

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Transcript

Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce 2.0, Serious Eats podcast about food and life every week on special sauce we begin with ask Kenji, where Kenji Lopez-Alt, Serious Eats Chief Culinary Consultant gives the definitive answer to the question of the week, that a serious eater like you has sent us.

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt: The yeast will start digesting and they'll produce carbon dioxide. And in that process, those bubbles forming will actually sort of knead the dough for you.

EL: After ask Kenji, a conversation with our guests. Today is Baker's Day on Special Sauce, featuring Amy's Bread owner, Amy Scherber.

Amy Scherber: He gave me a two week period to create a bunch of recipes, unpaid and try out the ovens and everything and if I could do it then I would have a job.

EL: and High Street on Hudson partner and bagel baker and bialy maker Melissa Weller.

Melissa Weller: I knew that that Nancy Silverton bagel recipe was like gold. And so I started making that recipe for staff meal.

EL: And finally on today's podcast, a teachable moment from the Serious Eats test kitchen.

Daniel Gritzer: Cooking for the holidays can be tricky because you have a lot of food to make and limited kitchen space. It's especially true with a dish like mashed potatoes, which doesn't really reheat that well. Today I'm going to show you a few tricks for how you can make mashed potatoes, well in advance and have them hit the table as good as new.

EL: First up, our Chief Culinary Consultant, author of The Food Lab, Kenji Lopez-Alt. So Serious Eater, Melissa Staricha wants to know, "What food processor did you all use for the New York style pizza dough? I've tried multiple times, and the 12 cup Breville Sous Chef, and it always clogs the machine.

JKLA: Hmm.

EL: Any alternative directions to make that dough without a food processor?"

JKLA: Let me answer that question sort of in sequence. First of all, we tested that recipe on an old Cuisinart, a Cuisinart 11 Cup Pro was the food processor. It was a brushed steel one. They don't make it anymore, I'm pretty sure, but it was my old food processor that we tested it on. We also tested it on a KitchenAid, which is what we had at the Serious Eats office. So we tested it on KitchenAid and Cuisinart. Since then, I now have that Breville Sous Chef at home, I think mine is 12 cup. It might be the 16 cup, I think. I can't remember off the top of my head. So it's possible I have the slightly larger one. I make it in there all the time. So it's most likely I have the larger one, and it's a little more powerful. So she's having a little trouble with the smaller 12 cup one.

What I would recommend is first of all, you could divide the recipe in half and even a 12 cup food processor an 11 or 10 cup should have no problem doing half a batch of that. And you can just do it in two batches and then just plop them together in the same bowl, and you know, it'll double up your cooking time, your prep time, but it'll work. The other way you could do it is to use my favorite method, which is just the no knead method. So this works for pretty much any dough, as long as the water, or the other liquid in the dough weighs 65% or more of the flour, this method will work. So basically all you do is mix up your dough. You can do it by hand, you could do it with a wooden spoon and a bowl, but you just mix it up just until it comes together. It can be super rough and shaggy, as long as there's no dry flour remaining. And then you just leave it in a bowl, cover it up with plastic wrap and let it sit on your counter at room temperature overnight.

And over the course of the night, what happens is, first there's some sort of enzymatic action that breaks down these long flour proteins into shorter chains. That makes it easier for them to sort of cross link to into gluten. And next the, the yeast will start working and start digesting the sugars and the carbohydrates in there, the yeast will start digesting, and they'll produce carbon dioxide. In that process, those bubbles forming will actually sort of knead the dough for you. It kind of stretches and pulls the dough. So these two things, this protein breaking down the, the enzymatic protein action called autolysis, the protein breakdown and the rising from the carbon dioxide from the yeast will because the bread dough to sort of self knead. So you just let it sit until the next morning, 12 hours, 8 to 12 hours, and then you can divide it up into balls and let them do their final proof and stretch them out and bake them just as normal. So no kneading at all required.

EL: Okay. I thank you Kenji and I know that Melissa Staricha. Thanks you for your wisdom. And of course that no knead dough was made popular by Mark Bittman but really first developed by Jim Lahey.

JKLA: Exactly, yeah. It was Jim's process at a Sullivan Street Bakery. He, I think, yeah, it was back in like 2006 maybe seven that Bittman discovered Lahey's method and published it in the New York Times and then everyone started baking bread at home.

EL: For sure, and it's good bread. I bought...

JKLA: Oh, it's great, yeah! Yeah, the process is great.

EL: Kenji Lopez-Alt is Serious Eats’ Chief Culinary Consultant and author of The Food Lab. Do send in your questions to Kenji to [email protected] Now, it's time to meet bakers and pastry chefs, Amy Scherber and Melissa Weller. Amy Scherber is the founder of Amy's Bread, which was one of the first artisanal bread baking businesses since back when that term actually meant something.

Amy Scherber: It's true, yes, back in 1992...

EL: Exactly! Melissa Weller is the bread baker and pastry chef partner at High Street on Hudson. She has been one of the leaders in restoring the reputation of New York City bagels and bialys. It's so great to have you both here. Welcome to Special Sauce.

MW: Thank you. It's fun to be here.

EL: I'm going to ask you both what I always ask, which is I want you to describe life at the family table. First of the Scherber family and then for the Weller family.

AS: My dad worked full time, and my mom was a mom who stayed at home with us. There were four kids. I'm the oldest, my brother is 10 years younger than me, so there are three girls and a boy. And we would come home from school and do whatever. And then at about 5:30 my dad came home, and he would loosen his tie, relax, maybe he'd have a little wine or something, he'd have his traditional routine. And then my mom would be scrambling around making dinner. We'd set the table and then we all sat down to eat pretty early, 6:00, 6:30 and she tried to make something delicious every day. Sometimes it was using canned food or frozen food or something like that...

EL: French onion soup, there's nothing wrong with that!

AS: Exactly, those mixes. But my dad worked for Pillsbury, so we always talked about Pillsbury baked products, and he would bring samples home. So we'd have like those biscuits that you open the thing, bake them and put different toppings on them and all that. So we were always testing out different new products and tasting all of that. And that was kind of part of our dinner was talking about these products or just about food in general.

EL: You mean your dinner table was like a focus group?

AS: It was actually, yes. And things that we loved were great and then we'd have to still eat cases of things that we hated also. So, because we were, my mom was very thrifty. We'd never throw anything away. We'd finish everything on the table. Everyone had to eat everything. We would never, you know, not finish it. It was very respectful.

EL: I assume all the bread products though were packaged and...

AS: They were, they were a lot of those Pillsbury canned biscuits and things like that.

EL: I don't know, it makes me laugh.

AS: But we always had dinner together every night. We really did. It was a family thing.

EL: What about you Melissa? What was the life of the Weller family table like?

MW: It was the Funk family table, Ed.

EL: It was the Funk family table?

MW: Right, my maiden name is Funk and I grew up in central Pennsylvania. I have a younger brother, and my parents are both school teachers, and they both worked, and they'd get home, we'd all get home around three o'clock in the afternoon. And my mom is... I grew up in the 80's so there was a lot of prepared foods, but my mom was also very creative, so she would be very creative with all of the prepared foods, and she'd love to plan things out. She'd create a menu for the week and then every day it was something, it was something different. And I don't know if it... At the time I thought it tasted good, but when I taste it now, I'm like, oh my God, did I eat this? How did I eat this?

EL: That's funny! What did they do for bread and pastries?

MW: She made everything herself. She loved to make things from scratch. So she made her own loaf of bread, just a regular plain round, in the 80's, plain round, like white loaf of bread that we would slice and serve with probably margarine. And she had a garden, so we'd grow our own vegetables and then those would be coupled with frozen vegetables in boxes. For pastries, she made everything. So we'd occasionally buy something from the grocery store, like a cinnamon swirl loaf of bread. But for most part she was making things from scratch.

EL: Right. And she made up in enthusiasm what she lacked in craft?

MW: Exactly. Yeah, she'd clip Good Housekeeping recipes, and those would be the recipes that she would follow along for this whatever. If it's like monkey bread, or I'm thinking peanut butter sticky bun something or other. It was those types of pastries that she would make.

AS: My mom always made homemade desserts, always. She would never by anything packaged. Right, she made all these different kinds of bars and cookies and cakes and things like that. And she'd always clip recipes from the Minneapolis Star Tribune because I grew up in Minneapolis.

MW: Got it.

EL: And so when she would make them, were you one of those kids who was on a step ladder or on a chair looking at what she did?

AS: I liked watching what she did, but she ran the kitchen, so I didn't make it. I watched her make it for sure.

EL: Got it. What about you?

MW: I helped. My mom, she's a teacher and so she would have me help and whatever the task was, I was doing it alongside with her.

EL: So you grew up in a small town in central Pennsylvania?

MW: I did. It's called Clearfield. Even people from Pennsylvania haven't heard of it.

EL: So it's like midway between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia?

MW: Yeah, it's off of interstate 80.

EL: I know interstate 80 well.

MW: Right next to state college.

EL: Oh, okay. So it's, it's right near Penn State. So it's really in western Pennsylvania.

MW: It is in western Pennsylvania. Yeah.

EL: Interesting. So when you were growing up and your mothers were making all the pastries, unlike my mother, who I don't think, I mean she died when I was 15 but I don't think I ever tasted something she baked. I don't think she had baked anything. So did you ever think like "Wow, I'd like to do that for a living?"

AS: At that time I didn't think I would do that, but I liked cooking and I would slowly got into the idea of cooking and making up some recipes and things like that. But I still wasn't sure about doing it for a living, but I thought it would be kind of fun maybe to do it for here and there in between doing some other kind of work.

EL: What about you, Melissa?

MW: It was never an option. It was always, you will do something in science. You will do something professional, you will be a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer. Those were pretty much the choices that I was given.

EL: You both ended up... Amy, you went to college at St. Olaf's.

AS: Exactly.

EL: And I went to college at Cornell, so we were in the same athletic conference.

AS: That's true. That's so cool.

EL: Probably the worst, the single worst athletic conference in the country.

AS: It's not known for its athletes, it's more for the academics actually, it's true.

EL: So yes, the Midwest athletic conference was not good for sports, but... So you went to St. Olaf's, so you didn't go far, for college?

AS: Only about a one hour drive.

EL: But long enough so that you didn't have to live at home.

AS: Exactly, I had my own freedom and I got to learn to be independent, which was important.

EL: And you majored in...

AS: In economics and psychology, yes. Come in handy over the years running a business.

EL: And at that time were you cooking for your friends in college? Were you baking for your friends or is it still sort of...

AS: I started cooking some dinners for friends and one summer one of my friends thought that I made such great dinners and she was trying to get a job as a nanny and these people wanted a housekeeper cook that would do a little babysitting for the summer job. And she said, you should meet my friend Amy, she's a really good cook and a really good baker you would want to hire her. So I was hired for the summer to be their cook and baker. And actually that's when I created all the different quick bread recipes and I made them. Every day I made them something different and I took out all those stacks and stacks of cookbooks from the library because they were vegetarian. They wanted everything made, breakfast and lunch and dinner made for them and then set aside so they could heat it up later. And I made a huge repertoire. I made a whole box of recipe cards for them because they thought everything tasted really good.

EL: You're very organized, I can tell.

AS: I did that, I was very organized through the whole process and it worked out to be an interesting and a really great learning experience.

EL: And Melissa, you went off to college where?

MW: I went to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania?

EL: Oh, yes! A heavy duty engineering school.

MW: Studied engineering.

EL: And at that point was cooking or baking, the last thing you were thinking about?

MW: Oh, I loved cooking. I definitely did it during the summer when I was home. When I wasn't studying I would dabble and cook and try things out. But I also started engineering classes right away as a freshman and I didn't like them and I felt, oh my God, what am I going to do? I don't like this. But it had been so ingrained in to me that I have to study science that I had this attack, anxiety attack of what am I going to do? I don't really like this. And I did it well I just didn't like the subject matter. It was like bridges and trusses and just totally not who I am.

EL: Bridges and trusses, but Melissa, you ended up working as an engineer?

MW: I did. It took me a little while to make that career transition. There was a lot of weight from my family about what was acceptable and what wasn't. And also the time that it was, it was in the 90's and the food culture and food as something that you do as a career wasn't legit.

EL: It wasn't legit. And your dad was also a part-time Methodist Minister?

MW: He's an ordained Methodist Minister and a school teacher. Yeah.

EL: Wow.

MW: Yeah.

EL: That is the definition of straight arrow.

MW: Yeah. So it had to be something really professional that I was going to study. And I think in my freshman year I freaked out so much that I decided I was going to double major and study something related to French because I was really drawn to travel and France and cooking and, oh my, he just didn't like it. He was really unhappy. It really needed to be just engineering, but I just didn't listen to them. And I went ahead and I double majored, only really so I could study France and go to France.

EL: And how did you arrive at bagels all these years later?

MW: Oh my goodness. How is that? That's from baking at home and when I first started working in the industry, there weren't very many bakeries in New York City and I just really wanted to learn. And I had a job at Babbo working for Gina DePalma. And so I was definitely learning about pastries and plated desserts, but I kept thinking to myself, where am I going to learn about bread? I need to learn about bread because that's what I'm really passionate about. And so I had a copy of Nancy Silverton's Baking at LaBrea Bakery and I'm like, I'm going to bake through everything in this book. I'm going to do every recipe. And I did. And there's a bagel recipe in that book and her bagels are...

EL: Oh, from her friend Izzy.

MW: Yes. Exactly, yes.

EL: But Amy, you had a similar career path in that you were on the straight narrow for a few years too, right?

AS: Right. When I came to New York, I worked in a marketing company and I got here to go to that marketing company and I did market research and consumer products, like how you merchandise and display products. That's what we focused on. And we met with all the big consumer products companies and it was interesting, but my heart wasn't in it either. It was just like -

EL: Sounds like the dinner table!

AS: It did. It was like going on with my dad's stories that he'd tell at the table. It was all these big corporations on how they put their products in grocery stores. And I would go to grocery stores around the country and take secret pictures of how they merchandise products, how badly they were done and displayed, and then how would they could fix it and make it better. And so after about three years I realized I really didn't have the passion for that and I wanted to go into cooking and I thought I would go into the restaurant side. So I went to culinary school and then I got a job in a restaurant. My first job was at Bouley and it was my internship and then I stayed on there and continued to work there.

EL: David Bouley is...

AS: An incredible mentor and everything. From there, after that two years there, I went to France to learn about bread baking. So I slowly got over to the bread side and the pastry side and away from the stove and I stayed in that side then.

EL: I think you were also a double major in psychology. So your interactions with David Bouley must've been helped by your major.

AS: It did help. It definitely did to be read between all the lines and figure it all out. Yeah.

EL: So Melissa, when did you have that moment you're like, okay, it is about bread first and foremost, or were you always going to have a dual major in bread and pastry.

MW: I think when I studied in France in college for a year and I think I was so entranced by baguettes that I couldn't, I didn't grow up with baguettes. There were no baguettes to be found. It was like pretty soft bread that I, was so fascinated by how's this made? I want to be able to make this myself. It felt like, it always goes back to my mom making everything from scratch and I'm like, I want to know how to make this, I want to do this. But I also was really open to doing pastry or savory and it just, it took a few steps in the industry to really say, Hey, I really want to do bread. That's what I'm most passionate about. And it was really Gina DePalma who helped me get bread jobs.

EL: Wouldn't you say Gina DePalma's the late great pastry chef? And so influential to so many people that not a lot of people outside the business know about. She won the James Beard Award, finally for best pastry chef. I was with her the night she won. It was after being nominated like five times and she just was crying uncontrollably. She was so happy.

MW: Yeah, she was a true mentor to me. And she helped me and worked with me so I told her I really want to learn how to bake bread. I want to work at a bakery, where should I go? And so it was Gina who wrote a letter of recommendation for me to go work at Sullivan Street Bakery.

EL: Wow. For Jim Lahey?

MW: For Jim Lahey, exactly.

EL: He's been on Special Sauce. What about you? So what was your arch, Amy, in terms of getting to bread? So you ended up working for Tom Colicchio at Mondrian doing both pastry and bread.

AS: Yes, that's correct. But when I was at Bouley, I moved over to the pastry side and I was in the pastry kitchen and our family was, my family that I was talking about before, my parents were going on a trip to France and I was going to join them. So I told David, you know, I'd really like to do an internship in France in a bakery. Do you know, who do you know? And he knows all the people around where he spent all his summers and in the town of Flayosc and then the town around Nice in that area and Caen. So he set me up with one baker and the baker was his, well actually it was the carpenter that built Bouley. He knew the town baker. So I stayed at the carpenter's house for a few weeks and went to the bakery in this time.

AS: And David helped me set the whole thing up. So that was the kind of launch and every day when I was at work, before I left, we would talk about bread that he loved. And the bakery that we bought bread from was really doing amazing bread. So we were just always talking about like fermentation and starters and he had gone to Ducasse and they were making these tiny little rolls that were amazing and he was so excited about bread and inspiring me to be interested in bread, that was sort of what pushed me over to even think about going there. And then after that few months in France, different places, I kind of worked out different internships and they were kind of wondering what I came there for because no woman was ever standing in their bakery watching what they did and what was I there for, I just wanted to see it.

AS: But then when I got back, I worked at Mondrian and I made the bread and Tom, I had known Tom and he said, I want to make everything under the roof myself. I want to have fresh bread, pastry, ice cream, everything made in house, chocolates. Nothing made from outside. So would you like to do the bread? He gave me a two week period to create a bunch of recipes unpaid and try out the ovens and everything and if I could do it then I would have a job. So..

EL: That's intense pressure.

AS: So I worked out different things, and it started with country sourdough. I made little dinner rolls, and I made focaccia, and some other things that were just everyday bread basket items. And then I added on all these other products at the same time.

EL: And Melissa, you started making bagel sort of semi-officially or semi-professionally at Per Se for family meal, right?

MW: I did, I did. The bakery was responsible for making staff meal on Fridays and we could do whatever we wanted to do. And so I would have fun. That was my time for creative freedom to do whatever I wanted to do. And I knew that that Nancy Silverton bagel recipe was like gold. And so I started making that recipe there for staff meal.

EL: Did you tinker with it or...

MW: I didn't tinker with the actual formula itself, but I tinkered with how it was fermented and how we were boiling and baking it.

EL: So your engineering background has come in handy.

MW: I'm sure it has. It's so ingrained in what I do that I don't necessarily think about it, but it does. Yeah.

EL: And Amy, your economics and psychology degrees have come in handy.

AS: Absolutely. Econ is the business whole thing, how it runs it, how it really works. And then the psychology has worked with dealing with the big staff for years and years and all the different things that happen over the years.

EL: Amy, tell us a little bit about the, you mentioned what it was like to be a woman in bakeries in France. What was it like to be a woman back then in the kitchens at serious New York restaurants?

AS: Well, there weren't many women actually at the time. And when I was at Bouley I was the only woman. And then another woman joined us eventually who stayed for quite a while. But you know, women weren't really moved up the line as fast. You know, I was on garde manger for a lot longer than all the guys were. They just moved right past me. Then I mentioned that...

EL: Not for any real reason?

AS: Not really, nope. They were all coming from culinary school too, but they just kind of moved in, and they were able to handle them, the heat, the stove, whatever it was. And so eventually I got promoted into one of the more important jobs on the line. But it took a long time to prove myself. And then I felt like I was given respect, but the kitchen had a really masculine culture and macho and like the jokes and everything were really nasty. And I mean today, supposedly it doesn't. I haven't been in a kitchen like that lately, but what they used to say to each other, and the jokes were just vulgar, you know, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. And if you really didn't want to work all 12, you know, you're like, couldn't we cut our shifts?

AS: Could we come in early, get the prep done, and we can make it a 10 hour day? No, you know, like you just, you never, you weren't strong enough, important enough or macho enough if you didn't do those really long shifts and like prove yourself, and it didn't really, it wasn't really necessary to do it...

EL: It's like you're a woman trying to join a fraternity in college.

AS: It was hard. Definitely.

MW: That was about 1990?

AS: Mm-hmm.

MW: Okay, got it.

EL: And what was your experience like at Per Se and...

MW: At Sullivan Street I was the first, I believe I was the first female bread baker. There were women who did pastry there, but there wasn't a woman in the back making the bread.

MW: And I also did three months at Bread Alone and that was a challenging crew too, it was all male. And I couldn't lift, there was one bag of flour that he was importing and it was in kilos. It was 40 kilos, which is 88 pounds. And I physically couldn't lift it and I physically couldn't do the mixing shift myself, but the guys could. And I was like, okay. And the same thing happened at Sullivan Street and I'm like, I've got to use my brain to beat the fact that I physically can't do this. And so I figured out, especially at Sullivan Street Bakery, I'm like, okay, this is heavy for me to lift, but I can lift it. But more than that I can figure out smarter ways to get the mixing done in a faster way to stay ahead of the clock because it was all time-based and you couldn't fall behind. And so I worked really hard both at Bread Alone and Sullivan Street to blend in with the all male team.

EL: Yeah. I bet that's really hard. You know, Anne Rosenzweig told me about a similar story when she was a seminal woman chef in New York City, Arcadia was a three star restaurant, I think. And she told me about the stockpot, which is very similar to your flour stories. And Anne is tiny, right. You know, she's like 4'11", I think. And they'd say, okay, go lift that stock pot. You know, and the stockpot was six feet high.

AS: Yeah. Oh yeah. Right. But when I first opened, we didn't, you couldn't get every flour in a 50 pound bag. But I insisted from our vendors, I will only take the kinds of flour that come in 50 pound bags. I will only use racks that anybody any size can lift and boards that are small that you can put pieces of dough on. So I converted our bakery into a bakery that any size person could work in.

MW: Right in the very beginning, that was my first goal and I had a lot of women working with me. And over the years, you know, with worker's comp and all these things, like everyone has to be able to lift everything and it has, you should have to have two people lift a bucket that weighs 30 pounds. You know, you don't let them do it alone and it's not macho anymore. It's not okay. But yeah, at that time, you know, I was just adamant that I wanted everyone to be able to lift safely and comfortably and not feel bad.

EL: The stories are amazing because we tend to take so many things for granted in 2019 you know and both of you have embarked on singular paths to being small business owners and entrepreneurs. And I'm realizing that it was not.... It's hard to do that anywhere, anytime, anywhere, regardless of gender. But when you throw the gender thing on top of, it must've been, Amy, you know, we're talking 1992 and what gave you the cojones you know, to think, okay, I'm going to start a business.

AS: Well, I mean, I think that was the back of my mind always. I wanted to have my own business. And that was the driver behind it. It could have been a marketing business. It could have been a restaurant, it could have been a bakery. I mean, it just was like this push. I wanted to open a business. And so once I was just ready to start something, it became the bakery. And that's when I found a small space right up the street from here on Ninth Avenue and 46th Street. And it seemed tangible because it wasn't so big. And I felt like, you know, I know the neighborhood, I live right around here, I can do this. I didn't feel like I was biting off something that was so big at that time because it was about 15 or 1200 square feet and it was pretty cheap rent and I had to buy an oven and otherwise I'd have bought used equipment. So my risks factor was low and I felt like, you know, at this time I can open up this business.

AS: Today, you really never could do that. You can't afford to. There's so many different things that are the, you know, the odds are really against you to do it on a small shoestring budget like that. But you know, I felt very empowered. My parents were so supportive. They said, you know, anything you put your mind to, I know you can do it. And they gave me a small business loan to help me open because I couldn't get a bank loan. So I had all this encouragement and support and I felt very confident that I could do it. I just had that going for me, I think.

EL: And Melissa, your path was a little less linear. I think...

MW: Yes, less linear yeah...

EL: But we're going to get into that, but we have to leave it right here for this episode of Special Sauce and we will get into your nonlinear career path because I have also never deviated from my nonlinear career path. So I know from nonlinear career paths. But thank you so much for sharing your Special Sauce with us, Amy Scherber and Melissa Weller.

MW: Thank you so much Ed.

AS: Thank you, it's really fun to be here.

EL: Now it's time for us to check in with the culinary team at Serious Eats world headquarters and see who's doing what this week. By the way. No need to take notes. The recipe, is at SeriousEats.com along with a video from Serious Eats managing Culinary Director Daniel Gritzer.

Daniel Gritzer: Cooking for the holidays can be tricky because you have a lot of food to make and limited kitchen space. It's especially true with a dish like mashed potatoes, which doesn't really reheat that well. Today I'm going to show you a few tricks for how you can make mashed potatoes while in advance and have them hit the table as good new.

Before I show you the techniques you need to make the mashed potatoes. You can find recipes for classic ultra fluffy mashed potatoes and the make ahead casserole on Serious Eats.

Prepare the mashed potatoes following a basic recipe in which you mash the potatoes with cream, sour cream and butter. Then scrape the mashed potatoes into a baking dish and smooth the surface. Cover it with plastic and refrigerate until ready to finish the casserole for serving. About two hours before serving, remove the potatoes from the refrigerator and let them stand at room temperature for about one hour. Apply the bacon, scallion and panko topping and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. The result is a mashed potato casserole that can be made well in advance and then reheat it to produce light, fluffy and moist potatoes with a subtle sour cream tang and a really flavorful crunchy topping that recalls the best fully loaded baked potatoes.

One of the easiest make-ahead mashed potato methods I know comes from my restaurant days. The key is to keep cream out until the last minute, then heat it up and use it to bring the potatoes back to life. Put potatoes that you've mashed with butter in a container and press plastic wrap directly against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. When you're ready to serve the potatoes, keep the cream in a saucepan until it comes to a boil. Then add the pre made mashed potatoes and fold them gently into the hot liquid. Once the cream is fully incorporated in the potatoes serve right away.

To use an immersion circulator to hold your potatoes, seal the fully made mashed potatoes, cream, butter, and all in a vacuum or zipper lock bag and submerge them until ready to serve. In my tests I found the potatoes can be held at 150 degrees Fahrenheit for up to one day with no loss in quality. When you're ready to serve the potatoes, just snip the bag open and squeeze them out into a serving bowl. They'll be perfectly hot and ready to eat. No matter your kitchen setup or menu plans there's always a way to make mashed potatoes ahead without any last minute scrambling.

EL: Serious Eats managing Culinary Director Daniel Gritzer. More from our test kitchen next time. That's it for today. Next week on Special Sauce Kenji will be back to answer with his usual scientific precision, your culinary question of the week. Do send in your questions to [email protected] plus the rest of Amy Scherber's and Melissa Weller's journeys into bread and bagel baking and entrepreneurship. All this on next week's special sauce. So long serious eaters. We'll see you next time.