MacIsaac certainly isn’t a new name in D.C., but the city’s most prolific and creative baker deserves more credit than she gets. She currently oversees pastry operations at all of Neighborhood Restaurant Group
’s properties, including two Buzz Bakery locations and Birch & Barley, where her husband Kyle Bailey is the well-regarded chef. In 2013, she’ll be keeping watch over an expanded empire as NRG opens GBD and The Iron Gate in Dupont, Bluejacket Brewery in Southwest D.C., Buzz Bakery at Navy Yard, and three Red Apron Butcher shops. GBD has generated the most buzz, and for good reason: The resto will serve MacIsaac’s doughnuts alongside Bailey’s fried chicken — a match made in heaven.
What D.C. chef, past or present, has been an inspiration for you? Why?
"I think the person I'm most impressed with at the moment is Allison Sosna. Her unwavering
commitment to bringing better food and eating habits to underserved communities in D.C. is truly
inspiring. I thinks it's amazing that she’s putting herself out there in such a powerful way."
If you had to pick a last meal for yourself from a D.C. restaurant, what would it be?
"My husband’s pastas at Birch & Barley are my weakness, but I also love the plate of pâtés and terrines at Proof."
What¹s the most hilarious or harrowing kitchen disaster you¹ve experienced?
"Although kitchen disasters are never hilarious at the time, [an event] I witnessed at CRU restaurant in New York is worth retelling. We sent a [new] intern down to the basement, where the pastry department was, to make red beet puree. It was the middle of service, and I'm sure the chef needed it fast and made that clear, so the intern was in a mini panic. He put a bunch of beets in the high-power blender and flipped it on at full speed. It was a little thick, so he added stock, scraped the sides, and then turned it back on full speed — without the lid. The puree shot all over the kitchen
. About 30 seconds later, the sous chef came around the corner and was a real jerk about it. My pastry team scrambled to help him clean it up, but he was really embarrassed and got reamed. Luckily, we all laughed about it later, and he went on to be the chef de cuisine at Ssam Bar, one of my favorite spots, so it all worked out in the end."
Who wasn¹t on this list that we should have included?
"I think Todd Wiss of Firefly is one of the most underestimated chefs in D.C. No joke, Kyle and I had the best brunch we’ve ever had there recently. He cooks the kind of food a chef wants to eat on their day off."
What dish of yours best exemplifies your approach as a chef?
Can I choose two? The Cookies and Confection plate I currently offer at several of the restaurants really showcases how fun my job is! It is six or seven homemade versions of childhood classics: Popcorn ice cream, a raw cookie-dough pop, a mini Hostess cupcake, and a cashew Snickers bar are some of the items you can find on the plate now. They are meant to be more grown-up versions of what you ate as a child. They should just make you feel good when you eat them.
I also like to mix flavors that are familiar with new ideas and techniques. In the summer, I had a PB&J dessert featuring a mousse of cured foie gras and peanut butter. I served it with sour cherry sorbet, peanut powder, micro celery (because I always had celery sticks with my PB&J), and cinnamon toasted brioche. I think the fact that it was the flavors of peanut butter and jelly made people who would otherwise steer away from a dessert with foie gras feel more comfortable to try it."
If you hadn't been a chef, what profession would you have chosen?
"I'm one of those people that would be happy doing a lot of things. I love the fast-paced, high-stress environment of a kitchen, but I think if I did something else, I would want it to be the exact opposite. Arranging real or sugar flowers on a wedding cake is one of my favorite parts of the job. I know it's really weird, but I've always been slightly infatuated with the idea of having a flower shop. I think it would still be artistic, but being surrounded by flowers seems like it would be very soothing, and I've never seen it on those 'most stressful jobs' lists, so it would be a step in the right direction concerning my blood pressure."