At Mistral Kitchen, Lucy Damkoehler did magical dessert-things like turn lime zest into pop rocks and make the world's smoothest sorbet, all within a workspace no larger than a studio apartment's bathroom. She's currently the pastry chef for Kurt Dammeier's restaurants—she developed the dessert menu for Bennett's on Mercer Island, and she'll be on the opening team for Liam's, coming to University Village this fall. She's also working on the menu for Sugar Mountain Bakery, a new shop Dammeier is opening next year.
Damkoehler has a knack for presenting familiar, comfortable flavors in new, mind-blowing ways. At Mistral, s'mores were reinvented as little semifreddo sandwiches alongside perfect domes of burnt homemade marshmallow; blueberry coffee cake was served with a sweet, unexpected smear of corn puree. She's come a long way since fifth grade, when she made an inedible chocolate torte for her dad using a half-cup of salt.
So tell me about this Sugar Mountain Bakery thing! When will it open?
We're looking at early next spring—probably March. It'll come so fast, though.
For you, maybe, but not for me, the person who can't wait to eat the desserts. What kinds of things can people look forward to? Are you still doing some of the molecular stuff?
No, not so much molecular anymore. I'm still sticking with the childhood memories, but revamped. I'm working on a peanut-butter-and-jelly cake right now. Basically, Sugar Mountain Bakery is going to be Americana-style desserts, kind of third-generation Southern.
Yeah! And I want to do a hummingbird cake, and find a way to incorporate fudge in a 2014 style. Fun things like that.
Are there any foods that you love that you're ashamed of loving?
Doritos are a huge thing, especially working for the company that I work for, because we're all about no red dye. My favorite Doritos flavor is the taco seasoning one. They're so good. I can't stay away.
What is your favorite thing to make for yourself that isn't on the menu, like a staff meal? Do you do that?
I really like to make everybody's birthday cake; I'm always volunteering to make people's birthday cake.
Do you have a favorite thing to cook at home?
My husband and I are on this huge kick of doing big, ginormous salads. We call 'em big-ass salads. Our garden is going crazy right now, so we have a bunch of lettuce, kale, and tomatoes—all that good stuff. That's my go-to dinner. Oh my gosh, I know another thing I'm ashamed of eating! We often have shitty taco night—we buy the taco seasoning and hard taco shells.
My mom would get us those! I loved them. I didn't know until, I think it was after I graduated high school, that taco shells could be soft.
Yes, me neither! I definitely grew up with it. For a long time, we'd make good street tacos, but recently we've gotten on a kick of shitty taco night, like we're in college. And they're not bad! I love them. When we say 'shitty taco night,' we are obviously distinguishing them from the good street tacos.
What are some of your favorite places to eat in Seattle?
My current favorite is to go to Husky Deli in West Seattle, get a sandwich and ice cream, and then go to Lincoln Park and have a picnic. Of course, the best part is eating the ice cream first! Jemil's Big Easy food truck is my favorite lunch to get when I'm at the office; he parks on Second and Pike on Tuesday and Wednesday. Oh! I have a new obsession—the Corner Market Greek yogurt place at Pike Place. Holy cow! Best yogurt I've had in a long time! I treat myself to it every Friday morning. And, of course, Ma'ono to get a burger, and Taste for happy hour.
Do you have any memorable, terrible kitchen disasters?
Oh, man, I do. Yes, very much so. When I was working in Hawaii, they had these citrus blossoms in the freezer that had been there for, like, three months. I had recently been talking to a friend of mine about how to rig your own machine to make extracts by evaporating the liquid and collecting it, and I was like, "Oh, I want to try that!" I was fairly fresh out of culinary school, thinking I was so cool, so I made this orange blossom extract water, and I did an orange blossom sorbet that ended up yielding about a ninth pan [about a quart] of sorbet. It was so good. I took it to my chef and I was like, "Look at this!" He tasted it—"Wow, that's really good, where did you get the extract?" "Oh, I just cleaned out the freezer and saw the blossoms." And he was like, "Uh, those are $80 a bag." And I used three bags of them! It was a more-than-$200 ninth pan of sorbet. He was like, "You need to ask next time."
Find info about Bennett's, Sugar Mountain, and Liam's at sugarmtn.net