Just eat it already!

Me: Here. Try this: a yummy almond cake. I think it needs a sour glaze though…
Hannah: Mmmmm… yeah. How about tamarind?
Me: *scrunches face* Nah, sounds weird…
Hannah: How do you know? Have you tried it?
Me: Nah, I just don’t think so… it’d be weird.

It was a rare occasion when I would sit and have dessert just for the sake of having dessert.  This may sound funny coming from a pastry chef.  I mean, what kind of pastry chef doesn’t want to eat sweet things?  I dilute my orange juice until it mostly resembles water with an almost-imperceptible orange tinge! But, day after day of baking and tasting, freezing and tasting, seasoning and tasting, scraping and tasting, blending and tasting, tasting, tasting, tasting, and TASTING, I just cant find it in me to bring anther morsel into my mouth.

And yet, I will always order dessert.  Always. There are several reasons for this:  first and foremost, we pastry chefs have to support our own.  (Haven’t you heard we’re a dying breed?) Part of it is to satisfy a professional curiosity. (Fermented black bean mochi donut holes? Bring it!)  Mostly though, I will order dessert every time because it is my job to eat.

Invariably, on the occasions that a young cook or curious person asks for advice, I will give them this juicy bit: just eat it already!  I might get chuckles, I might get an expression filled with shock or dismay; I might get the occasional: “Hey, don’t you tell me what to do.” But then I explain and it makes perfect sense.

You see, the only way to develop a good palate is to taste things: eat them, swish them around in your mouth, pay attention to the details:  is it slimy?  Buttery?   Smooth? Fatty? Gritty? Tannic? Try to get beyond just the sweet, sour, bitter, salty and REALLY taste something.

Again and again and again.  Taste, taste, taste.  I say: try everything!  Eat great desserts, eat bad desserts, eat middle-of-the-road stuff.  Knowing what you don’t like and why is just as important as knowing what you do like and why.  Try local produce, try the stuff that traveled from halfway around the world, try fruit in season and then go and try the fruit not in season.  Try them in sauces, jams, pickled, roasted, and charred.  Taste things all day, every day.  Do it until you don’t have to think about it anymore; taste until it become second nature.  Green almonds? Yes, please.  Vietnamese coriander? Don’t mind if I do!  Blueberry umeboshi mustard? Umm, YES!

You see, only in this way do you start filling that circular Rolodex of flavor in your mind.  Each new combination is another card added.  And only through tasting a range of ingredients and experiencing new flavors and textures can you get to the point where tasting one thing might remind you of another thing: perhaps you start with that buttery almond cake that Hannah and I spoke of, only it makes you think of a tangy passion fruit glaze, before you remember the passion fruit curd you tried at that little shop in Boston with a faint whisper of orange blossom water and how they also served those super deliciously flaky pistachio croissants with black sesame seeds and how much they rocked your world even before you’d had your morning coffee, OH!, and then you think of that hot afternoon that Saskia made the. most. delicious. iced horchata lattés and how you would give your first born child for another tall glass of that heavenly ambrosia because, mmmmm, the ground almonds, and cinnamon with brown rice, and do I detect just the tiniest bit of clove?…  Mmmmm, clove!  THAT would pair splendidly with a vanilla and passion fruit braised pineapple and perhaps there we could even incorporate a little tamarind paste!  That would be delicious!

…But not with the almond cake cause that would just be weird.

You get my point.

Only through tasting anything and everything can your brain get to the point where it can start making those kinds of powerful connections.  It is those connections that will propel you forward with a broader range for creativity, that will allow you to approach your cooking, sweet or not, with a greater degree of nuance, that will ultimately make you a better cook and in turn, a better chef and teacher.

But, let’s be honest, sometimes tasting sucks.  So what do you do when you just cannot stick another bite in your mouth? Had one too many helpings at staff meal? Reached flavor overload and you. just. cannot?!  Well, to that, I say: trust the process and just eat it already!

— April Robinson, Pastry Chef, BaoBao Dumpling House


April’s first taste of durian. So yummy if you can get past the smell!

January Travels

Every January Tao shuts down for a month to give our weary bodies a chance to catch up on sleep, to give the staff an opportunity to travel and see friends and family, and to escape some epic snowstorms (especially important to those who plow out Tao’s parking lot).  Cara and I have taken advantage every year, and have had amazing adventures driving through Thailand and Italy, touring though Gaudi’s Barcelona, and stuffing our faces with Stilton at Borough Market in London.  We’ve eaten chicken grilled to rare in Japan, drunk Sauternes in Sauternes, France IN the field where the grapes were grown, and crushed Bahn Mi sandwiches every night we were in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Cara and Saskia in Emilia-Romagna amongst the wheels of Parm

Obviously our travels tend to be very food focused.  My dad has said that anyone who travels with us is guaranteed to eat well.  The other side to eating is the food production; seeing the incredible amount of energy that goes into the item that you chuck into your cart at the grocery store.  In Emilia-Romagna, we watched wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano created from hundreds of gallons of milk (160 gallons of milk yields two wheels of Parm).  The whey left over feeds the pigs that will become prosciutto.  The wheels follow Italy’s DOC guidelines and age at least 12 months.  They are rotated, cleaned and tapped with a hammer.  A trained ear listens to the sound of the cheese when tapped, and decides when the cheese is ready to be opened.  The Parmigiano must be perfect inside, and any holes will mean the cheese is sold under a different label and with a lower price.  As someone who cooks for a living, I would imagine it’s disappointing to find imperfections after all the time and energy that goes into each wheel (not to mention the financial hit—people, not machines, do the bulk of the work).  However, an imperfect cheese does not even touch the story that was a crucial part of our tour: the tragedy of Northern Italy’s 2012 earthquake, which shook the warehouses that stored thousands of wheels—approximately 300,000 fell to the ground and cracked.  Now remember that 80 gallons of milk goes into each wheel.  Standing in that room surrounded by all that cheese put that number into perspective.

Italy’s earthquake was not the only story we heard about nature disrupting the plan.  While we were trilling our Sauternes and reveling over the deep complexity of flavor in our glasses (and how much foie gras we were going to buy later that day) we learned why Sauternes is so expensive.  One vine will produce 1/5 the amount of wine of other varieties.  The grapes become infected with “noble rot,” which produces the distinct prized flavor.  However, the amount of rot has to be carefully monitored, and the grapes are picked by hand, and too much late rain or an early frost will devastate the whole crop. There have been whole years where nature has prevented a vintage. YEARS.  I appreciated my glass that much more after hearing that fact.

Our jobs are very rewarding, I think, partially because there is a beginning and an end.  You start with raw ingredients, prep all day, and turn out dinner for up to 90 people.  The kitchen is hot and sweaty, and when you sometimes cook dinner for that many people, it’s easy to think to yourself “this is totally crazy.”  And it is.  But then you remember all those people you met who work so diligently to make the Parmesean that we microplane on our tuna poke (don’t be too shocked at this sacrilege of cheese and fish—it’s an umami bomb of delicious).  And when your morning starts on a wharf looking at fat Maine scallops right off the boat, or combing through quince trees for the roundest most golden fruit, or picking up a thousand kinds of hot peppers from the Farmer’s Market that were grown with your restaurant in mind—it levels the crazy of the day.  At the end of the month of vacation, I think everybody is ready to get back to work. Not only are we eager for a little structure to our days, but after watching people creating beautiful product, we want to share what we’ve learned and follow suit with our own creative spirit.

— Saskia Poulos, Chef, Tao Yuan restaurant

Saskia and her mom stirring traditional English Christmas Cake– stir three times clockwise and make a wish for the new year!

Tuna Poke 
Serves four

Processing tuna at Upstream Trucking

8 oz  Sushi grade tuna, cubed
2 Tbs Scallion, chopped
1 Tbs Cilantro, chopped
1 Tbs Thai Basil, chopped
2 Tbs lime juice
A scant 1/4 c Macadamia nut pesto (recipe follows)

Mix everything together, adding more or less pesto and lime juice depending on your taste.  Adjust seasoning with salt and/ or fish sauce.  Microplane more Parm on top, and serve with shrimp chips.

Macadamia nut Pesto

3 ea red Thai bird chilis, blackened
1 clove garlic, smashed
225 g Macadamia nuts
50 g Parm, microplaned
50 g EVOO
Fish sauce to taste

In a blender, pulse nuts to a smaller size, then add the other ingredients and blend until pesto consistency.  Adjust to taste with fish sauce.

How to Navigate a Wine List

When dining out, there may come a time that you will be handed a wine list and asked to “choose a wine for dinner.” Where to start, how to start, and what to look for, will all be thoughts speeding through your mind, while all along hoping to make the right choice and impress the other guests. Maybe you are not quite an expert—but you understand wine, you enjoy wine—there is a reason the wine list was handed to you.  Or, you are far from an expert but you enjoy wine and everyone knows it, so naturally the list was handed to you in hopes your love of wine will translate into an amazing bottle selection for the evening. Either way you are now on the spot—so here are a few pointers and suggestions, whether you are an aspiring oenophile or not, to make sure your selection is a homerun!

First, identify the style and layout of the wine list itself. It will make it easier to read and much easier to hone in on the right area to make the best selection. Wine lists are typically organized on a base level by wine style: sparkling, white, rosé, or red. Next is where it can become tricky, depending on the size of the list and the individual who writes and maintains the list itself. This is the ultimate key. I have broken wine list styles into four major categories:

Regional: Where the wine is from will be the header, typically by country with sub categories of smaller regions within each country.

Varietal: The grape or grapes used to make the wine will be the title of each section.  For instance, “Chardonnay” will be the header and the selection of Chardonnays would be listed below.

Weight:  This style of organizing a wine list is a bit more difficult. “Weight,” refers to the body of the wine and how it effects the mid-palate. In this situation, “Weight,’ becomes the sub-category almost always. For instance, a list that is first organized by region may then be further organized by weight.

Price: Much like a list that is organized by weight, a price-organized list is typically a sub-category of a larger category. It is a list that simply puts the least expensive wine at the top of the category and then progressively lists selections to the highest priced bottle.

Inside each category the list may be broken down again; for instance, it may be a regional wine list, but inside each region, the specific bottles may be organized by weight or price. If you have gotten this far, but need a small nudge to completely understand the list in front of you, do not be afraid to simply ask— whoever is attending to you should be able to answer. On the other hand, if this all seems foreign, do not be afraid to ask from the initial greeting how the list is organized so that you can then concentrate the effort into making an amazing selection.

Now that the style and organization of the list is determined, it is time to start zeroing in on your chosen wine. At this point you will want to determine a myriad of different factors that will essentially guide you to your ultimate decision.

Price: What is your price ceiling? This will immediately help to narrow down a selection.

Starter bottle or dining bottle: Is your initial selection meant to carry through the dining experience, or is it a bottle to fill time and awaken your palate? A bottle to start may be easier to select on a broader scale, whereas a bottle meant for the entire dining experience may need a more attentive approach.

Cuisine style: Does the establishment where you are dining have a specific style of cuisine? If so, it will help focus your attention when choosing a bottle for the meal.

Guests’ meal preferences: Are there any restrictions or guidelines for the guests in your party? Is there a vegetarian or pescatarian, someone who loves or hates spiciness, or any other form of dietary restriction? This will narrow down the menu, which will in turn narrow the wine list.

Wine list strengths and weaknesses:
Where does the wine list excel? Where might it fall short? If a list is heavy in a style or region, the options in that section can be more esoteric and focused. It may possibly be the wine steward’s way of telling you that this style or region goes best with our cuisine. This is extremely important to pick up on—it could be a game changer.

Once you have determined all of this, it is time to either make a choice, or ask a few questions! This is the perfect time to ask to see the Sommelier or the person in charge of the wine list. I guarantee they will be more than thrilled to speak with you and answer any number of questions. You may have narrowed it down to a few bottles and need a little more detail to decide, or you’re just completely lost at this point and wish you could cry out for help—either way, do not be afraid to ask! When speaking with the wine steward, here are a few pointers to help narrow down the field of selections (these may also come in handy even if you do not choose to speak to the person in charge):

  • Be upfront on your price range, it helps everyone and breaks the ice.
  • Know what you like and don’t like (this includes your dining companions), and describe your likes and dislikes in any way possible.
  • Vintages: an older wine is not always a better wine!
  • Forget about the “white with fish, red with steak” mentality… it is long outdated.
  • Ask about “diamonds in the rough,” or what is exciting and different on the list.
  • In regards to the above, many Sommeliers keep a special selection in the cellar that is not on the public wine list that they love to talk about and sell to the inquisitive guest.

When it is all said and done, you should be secretly smiling, knowing the perfect bottle of wine for the specific situation has been served… and it was all your decision.  Take your time, read the list. Whoever wrote the wine list for the establishment put in a great deal of time, effort, and passion in an order to provide you with the best possible selection. Said person would also love to talk with you pre- or post-selection, so do not hesitate at any time to ask to see them. If you need more time to decide, but need to quench the thirst, I always say that bubbles are a great way to begin any dining experience. Or have a cocktail, sit back, relax, and secretly plot your wine list domination.

— Chris Peterman, Director of Operations, Eighty-Ate Hospitality

Canopy Farms

By the end of this year, Canopy Farms will be growing produce for all of Eighty Ate Hospitality’s businesses in our own aquaponics greenhouse next door to Tao Yuan. It’s been a long time coming.

I joined the Tao team back in 2013, ready to take a vision that Cara and I shared– a farm, in partnership with the restaurant– and bring it into reality. Cara and her mother, Cecile, had been working hard to get their first restaurant off the ground, and it was beginning to pay off. Tao Yuan was coming up on its 1 year anniversary of being open, Cara was starting to be recognized on the national stage, and plans were forming for a second restaurant  in Portland (BaoBao Dumpling House). The farm was part of the next phase of the vision, and I was thrilled to be a part of it all.

I have to admit something here, before I go any further: I wasn’t necessarily hired for this job based on skill and experience alone (although I like to think that had something to do with it!). My appointment at Tao had a bit of a nepotistic twinge to it, if you take into account that I was a long-ago dubbed an “honorary Stadler,” with my own slot on the family chore chart and everything. Cara and I grew up together, and stayed close friends all the way from pre-school through the twists and turns of early adult life as we both began our careers. We both focused on food– her on preparing it, and me on growing it. We had dreamed of working together in these obviously synergistic roles, and as Cara grew her business, she had kept this vision in mind. She and her parents had bought the lot adjacent to Tao with their purchase of the property, and it was here that the plan for an aquaponics greenhouse would take shape.

Four years later, construction is soon to begin. It’s been a long road– with lots of hurdles, distractions, and delays– but our commitment to the project and long-standing mutual trust have allowed this project to persist. And along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to work with my friend and watch her grow as a business owner and manager as she and Cecile have brought their own vision to life. There’s so much more to say about the greenhouse project– what we hope to do with aquaponics, how we’ll partner with Harpswell Coastal Academy and the Propeller Project to host high school interns, the other businesses that the facility will house– and I’m sure we’ll discuss it many times in many ways on this blog. For now, here’s to the next year, and more good things to come!
Kate Holcomb, Canopy Farms

Tiki Revival

What is Tiki? In the original Maori mythology, Tiki represents the first man created by the god Tane. Its carved humanoid form became ubiquitous as a vessel for the popular Polynesian drinks of the mid-20th century. The 1934 opening of Don the Beachcomber, a popular Hollywood restaurant, forged the path with Tiki torches, rum punches, flower leis, and Cantonese cuisine. Not long after, “Trader Vic” Bergeron opened a similar themed restaurant in Oakland California. Stars like Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra were regular patrons at these Hollywood hot spots.

Modern Tiki culture was born in the Depression and died with disco.  In the 1930’s, Tiki pioneers like Donn Beach and Victor Bergeron wowed their patrons with exotic ingredients and tropical flavors.  As the Polynesian craze swept across the country, many imitators attempted to copy the closely-guarded recipes of the originals, often falling short. This resulted in the abundance of poorly crafted, boozy, sugary bombs.  For too long, Tiki drinks were equated with syrupy sweet, watered down concoctions–but recently the style has made a massive comeback.

While Tiki bars are now all the rage, it was Chinese restaurants that carried the torch for the last fifty years. One of our favorite things about Tiki drinks is that they’re fun. In a time when mixology is revered like alchemy, Tiki reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously. True Tiki cocktails are well balanced, nuanced, and refreshing, and many of the original recipes are now available.

At Bao Bao we’ve revived Tiki classics such as the Mai Tai and the Zombie (check out the recipe below), and put our own spin on them. These drinks utilize a carefully selected blend of rums, house made syrups, and fresh citrus juices. They are the perfect accompaniment to an order of dumplings.

 — Patrick McDonald, Bar Manager, Eighty Ate Hospitality


1 1/2 oz dark rum
1/2 oz navy strength rum
1 oz Chinese 5 spice syrup
1 oz white grapefruit juice
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
Shake with ice and pour whole concoction into a Tiki mug.


On the outskirts of Maine’s much-boasted food scene in the Greater Portland area is the small historic college town of Brunswick, Maine. I spent most of my adolescent years in, or passing directly through, this cozy Midcoast Maine destination– and over the years, I ate at many of the area’s restaurants. As a child, I never thought too much about the behind-the-scenes competition that thrived in the professional work environments of my favorite places for an evening milk shake, lobster roll, or bowl of soup. But as I’ve spent the last 14 years in the restaurant industry in this great state, that competition has become very real for me.

I find now, at the age of 28, that it is nearly impossible for me to stop an ever-revolving thought pattern of culinary critique wherever I eat; whether it’s a search for refinement, musings about price points, or simply the little adjustments I would make to the recipe if I made it. I notice this same instinct in my colleagues and especially in my chef and educator, Cara Stadler. When you dine with other restaurant professionals, sometimes the conversation is not as full of “ooo”s and “ahh”s, but more like a boardroom meeting (even if it can seem like a boardroom of misfits and quasi-pirates).

I feel that building an establishment like Tao Yuan  in Brunswick has helped to strengthen the ecosystem of this strong culinary mentality. The more restaurants and eateries that constantly challenge themselves and others to be innovative in the locales outside of famous foodie Portland, the better off my home state will be. Living in Midcoast Maine, seeing these important transformations has inspired and solidified my career in the industry. Maybe the outskirts of Portland won’t always be home, but it is surely where I learned the difference between a simple monetary transaction for a meal and what the story of a restaurant can really be– the staff and their countless hours and efforts to perfect every detail.

–Kyle Birkinbine, Sous Chef, Tao Yuan Restaurant

Kyle enjoying a Midcoast Maine sunset

Exploring Oregon Wines

As I approach my one year anniversary with Eighty Ate Hospitality, I’ve been reflecting on what I have learned in the last year. Before Tao I knew little about Asian cuisine—except that I very much enjoy eating it! I was (and still am) on the pursuit to study and understand the vast world of wine. Pairing wines with Asian cuisine was not second nature to me, but working here has allowed me to think out of the box (of course while following some of the fundamentals).   In the spirit of “there is always more to know,” I decided to dive into the history of Oregon wine this week in consideration of our upcoming wine pairing dinner. So here we go…

It is only relatively recently that the Oregon became not just a viable but an extraordinary region for growing vitis vinifera.  In the 1960’s a group of dreamers were convinced that Oregon was a prime location for growing European grape varietals.  This group is known as the “Pinot Pioneer’s.” They were engineers, teachers, and liberal arts graduates who had no farming or sales experience and no clue of what it took a run their own business. Nevertheless, they decided to move forward despite a number of naysayers.

It all started with David Lett. Educated in viticulture at UC Davis, Lett fell in love with the Pinot Noir grape while visiting Burgundy. He became determined to find a place in North America where Pinot Noir and similar varietals could thrive and display terrior as in Burgundy. (“Terroir” is a word often used to identify wine by region; it refers to the unique flavors and characteristics of a wine based on the region where it was produced). UC Davis wine professors and wine professionals urged Lett that Oregon’s cool and wet climate would not lead him to success. Lett ignored their advice and found his spot in Willamette Valley. A number of other couples in pursuit of the same goal were soon to follow, and the group was eventually coined as Pinot Pioneers. They ripped up strawberry fields and abandoned prune orchards and began to lay down Pinot Noir vines. The families were not able to obtain loans from banks due to the common lack of confidence in the project. To battle this, they all worked second jobs to keep their families afloat, they shared equipment and knowledge, and they decided that together they would prove their critics wrong. And as we all know now, proving them wrong is exactly what they did. It took some tweaking and practice to make a vintage that was of quality, but in 1979 Lett took his Pinot Noir to an international wine show where his wine placed in the competition. His Oregon Pinot Noir beat out well know Burgundy wines—and finally, Oregon was in the game. Pinot Noir and the Pioneers truly paved the way for the expansion of Oregon’s wine industry and subsequent winemakers. These victories led to the introduction of additional varietals that have become just as successful as their predecessor.

A varietal that thrives in the cool climate of Oregon and demonstrates the region’s natural acidity is Gewurztraminer. We will be pouring Teutonic Gewurztraminer from Crow Valley Vineyard in Willamette. Barnaby Tuttle of Teutonic Wine Company fell in love with German-style Rieslings while working as a wine buyer in an Oregon restaurant. In spite of being a complete novice on grape growing and winemaking he decided in 2002 that he was going to leave the restaurant industry and become a wine maker. A friend of his lent him a parcel of their farm in Alsea, Oregon where Tuttle planted 2000 vines. His determination lay in learning how to grow and produce a product with the same typicity (a wine’s ability to demonstrate the characteristics of the grape from which it’s made) that you find in a German wine. In my opinion he has done a great job, the moment we tasted this wine we were all very excited about the quality and the range of food it would be able to handle. This wine is crisp and ripe with a great viscosity. We decided to think outside with box and pair this with a young lamb tartar alongside the flavors of chamomile and sesame.

Another producer we will be highlighting is Cristom. Like the Pinot Pioneers, they too were in the pursuit of spectacular Pinot Noir. The founder, Paul Gerrie, was an engineer from the East Coast who fell in love with wine when invited to the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon. He decided to uproot his young family and move west to chase his passion.  Once there he teamed up with his vineyard manager, Mark Feltz, and winemaker Steve Doerner. They produced their first vintage in 1992 and have been carefully working to produce exceptional Pinot Noirs since.  We are pouring their 2013 Pinot Noir from Jessie Vineyard , a fuller-bodied representation of Pinot Noir.  At first taste we realized this wine would be a spot on pairing with a New York strip we have coincidentally been aging.

The more I’ve researched Oregon grape growers and wine makers, the more I see the spirit of the Pinot Pioneers having a continual influence on Oregon.  People are continuing to take chances and from what I have found they are doing it out of passion and love for the grapes. As I delve further into my wine education, the most exciting and daunting thing is there will always be more to know. There are endless grape varietals and regions to study and more stories of winemakers and their passion to discover.  I am looking forward to the continuous exploration.

Nicole Elmore, Front of House Manager, Tao Yuan Restaurant

A vineyard from Nicole’s visit to Oregon

Embracing the (Delicious) Unknown

When I first started as pastry chef at Tao Yuan restaurant in the summer of 2015 I remember being honest: I had no real experience making Asian food, let alone traditional Asian desserts.  My experiences thus far had left me with some familiarity of non-western flavors– things like pandan, mochiko and black sesame were certainly not new– but these ingredients had always been incorporated into recipes that were deeply rooted in European tradition.  I was, however, very curious, as well as committed to research, and excited to learn new things.

When cooking, either at home or professionally, we are all operating out of a database of stored memories.  This sets our expectations and creates our reference points, a kind of subconscious checklist that, when the process is going well, affirms that a recipe will be successful.  After becoming skilled at making a simple butter cookie, for example, you can also make a pâte sucrée, or a basic sponge cake.

The weekly regional dinners that we hold at Tao Yuan have turned this comfortable formula on its head for me.  Trying to create an authentic Chinese dessert, technique and all, is a challenging and fun way to expand my preconceived notions—of what is pleasing, and how food is supposed to look and taste and feel.  I am learning new fundamental methods, a rather terrifying process that involves extensive research, followed by blind trust as I diligently forge ahead into a new recipe.  Like a bad movie, I have to suspend my disbelief or risk self sabotage– for example, if the recipe says to leave a lump in the middle of a rolled dough, do it! – despite that this is directly opposed to the obsessive practice of rolling out doughs flat and even. If you do not leave a lump in the middle of a soup dumpling wrapper, the bottom will fail to be sturdy enough to support all of its filling as it cooks.  It is a humbling process, as well as an emotional rollercoaster, but one that is rewarded when there is success; a new technique learned, a new texture or flavor to crave, the thrill and surprise of the previously unknown.  Especially when the previously unknown turns out to be delicious!

These Rose Scented Lotus Patties are a regional dessert from the Shaanxi province in China.   Sweet, salty, crunchy and aromatic, they are near perfection.  The “dough” is made by pulsing lotus root in the food processor until it forms a loose paste.  The lotus patties look destined to fall apart during the shaping process; however, once they hit hot oil, the starches bind and you are left with beautiful, cohesive little dumplings.

Lotus root is the actual stem of the lotus flower, and is available in many Asian markets.  This recipe also calls for rose petal jam- I made mine last summer with fresh rose petals, but it is also available at Middle Eastern Markets.

Rose Scented Lotus Patties

Adapted from ‘All Under Heaven’ by Carolyn Phillips

Yield 20 dumplings

For the dumplings:

  • 1lb lotus root
  • 1t lemon juice
  • 2T cornstarch

For the filling:

  • 2T butter
  • ¼ c walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1T goji berries, soaked in boiling water until plumped and drained
  • 2T rose petal jam
  • ¼ t salt

For the sauce:

  • ⅓ c honey
  • ⅓ c rose petal jam
  • Water as needed

Thoroughly wash the lotus root externally and internally, and dry thoroughly.  Peel and cut into ½ inch cubes.

Pulse the lotus root in a food processor until finely ground.  Add the cornstarch and lemon juice, and blend until you have a relatively smooth paste, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides.  This takes longer than you might imagine.  The lotus paste will start to come together, although it will never be totally cohesive.  Drain off any excess liquid, and put in the refrigerator to chill.

Combine all ingredients for the filling in the food processor, and pulse until you have a paste.  Put in the refrigerator to chill.

Take the lotus root paste out of the refrigerator, and divide into 20 pieces.  Press each piece into a rough ball and return to the refrigerator.

Take the walnut filling out of the refrigerator.  At this point, it should have solidified to the texture of firm butter.  Roll into 20 balls.  If it starts to melt or becomes difficult to roll, return to the fridge to firm up before proceeding.  Put the rolled balls into the freezer to fully chill for at least 10 minutes.

Make the sauce:  Whisk rose petal jam and honey together until smooth, adding water as needed until you have a pour-able consistency.

Poke a hole into one of the lotus paste balls and place a ball of the walnut filling inside of it.  Push the lotus paste around to cover the filling and squeeze gently into a rough ball.  Return to the refrigerator.  Repeat until you have 20 filled dumplings, pausing to let the filling chill if it becomes difficult to work with at any point.

Heat an inch of oil in a wide frying pan on medium high heat.  Once the oil is hot, carefully slide in the lotus dumplings, being careful not to crowd the pan.  Fry on both sides until golden brown, a minute or two on each side.  Use a slotted spoon to remove dumplings from the hot oil and onto a plate.  Generously pour the sauce over before serving.

Kate Hamm, Pastry Chef at Tao Yuan

Kate’s love for pastry started young!

Guide to China’s Regional Cuisine

Feb 19 – Shanxi/Shaanxi
Feb 26 – Shandong
Mar 5 – Xinjaing
Mar 12 – Peking Duck
Mar 19 – Sichuan
Mar 26 – Hunan
Apr 2 – Taiwan
Apr 9 – Yunnan
Apr 23 – Macau
May 7 – Guangdong
May 14 – Hainan
May 21 – Tibet
May 28 – Shanghai


Shaanxi/Shanxi  ·  FEB 19 MENU

Shaanxi cuisine has a number of both modern and ancient influences. Eastern and Northern China, Central Asia, as well as the Central highlands have all melded together to create the flavors, cooking methods and traditions of this province.  The culinary heart of Shaanxi is in the capital, Xi’an– the power and wealth of the metropolitan area attracted many chefs from all around the country, providing a number of different influences in the cuisine.

For many years feuding tribes fought over the province of Shanxi, bringing a mixture of food traditions to the province.  Pork is the major protein of the area considering the province is inhabited solely by the Han Chinese.  Noodles also play a large part in the cuisine of Shanxi; it is said that “all the world’s pastas can be found in Shanxi alone.”  The province is also distinguished for the rich flavors and aromas of its aged black rice vinegar which is often put to use in sweet pickled garlic cloves.

Shandong  ·  FEB 26 MENU

The coastal Shandong province lies at the mouth of the Yellow river in Northeastern China.  Three major culinary branches have influenced the region:  first, decedents of the Confucius, whose refined flavors can be seen in a dish called Yellow Braised Duck (the less famous cousin of Peking Duck, but just as delicious and easier to prepare);  second, the Jiaodong Peninsula, known for seafood dishes; and third, Jinan, whose local flavor is abundant with garlic. In turn, this province has had a substantial influence on all Northern Chinese cooking with its rich and savory local dishes–which we will showcase in our Shandong-style pork ribs. The influence of this province has been so large that the entire region is often referred to as “Shandong School”.

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Xinjiang  ·  MAR 5 MENU

Located in the Northwest, Muslim-inspired cuisine holds sway in the province of Xinjiang. The food reflects the tastes and cooking styles of Uyghurs, Hui Muslims and Tibetans, with defining flavors of the dishes being chilies, meats, breads and cumin.  The most commonly used protein on the region is lamb.  A popular dish of the region is a “Big Plate of Chicken”, which was created by the Sichuan’s who immigrated to this area.  Their goal was to make a meal that would satisfy the appetites of the people who worked long days at very physical, demanding jobs.

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Peking Duck · MAR 12 MENU

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Sichuan  ·  MAR 19 MENU

Sichuan’s cuisine is known for its distinct, mouth-numbing spice. Three major cites offer variation in the region: Chengdu, Chongqing and Zigong.  In Chengdu you find more refined and conservative flavors alongside casual street foods that provide the numbing spice from the Sichuan peppercorn.  One of the favorites of the region is Mapo Doufu, tofu that is infused with the Sichuan peppercorn and served with minced pork.  Another famous dish of the region is Shui Zhu Yu, literally translated to “water boiled fish” (which fails to mention the layer of chilies and chili oil covering the water!).  In Chongqing chilies are used abundantly, creating dishes with complexity and flare.  Zigong’s cuisine is heavily influenced by its history of being a salt-production area;  beef has traditionally been a bountiful ingredient due to the use of water buffalo to extract salt from deep saline wells.

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Hunan  ·  MAR 26 MENU

Hunan is referred to as “the land of rice and fishes.” The land is extremely fertile; in fact this province produces the largest quantity of rice than any other province in the country.  It is also second in production of pork, beef and lamb. Also known as “Xiang Cuisine,” Hunan fare has the reputation of producing flavors even hotter than the mouth numbing flavors of Sichuan; however, there is a greater variety of produce (including, notably, citrus) due to its more southern location. Traditionally the people here believe that cooking with chilies is beneficial in that it dries out and cools down the body, thus allowing the people who reside here to live more comfortably in the damp climate with its hot summers and cold wet winters.  The cuisine is focused largely around elaborate preparation and attractive presentation.  The most popular dish of the area is Crispy Orange Beef, which is a beef dish marinated and complemented with the flavors of chilies, ginger and citrus.

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Taiwan  ·  APR 2 MENU

The flavors of Taiwan are heavily influenced by the Japanese who occupied the province from 1895 until 1945; however, the cuisine changed significantly following the civil war in 1949. After Mao Zedong, many people flooded into Taiwan, bringing different cooking methods and traditions which resulted in an amalgam of techniques and flavors all available in one area.  Despite the vast array of influences on the region, the Taiwanese consider their most popular dishes as true Taiwanese specialties.  One of these is Ba Wan, an oversized steamed dumpling made with sweet potato flour.

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Yunnan   ·  APR 9 MENU

Yunnan, meaning “south of the clouds,” is made up of mountainous lands stretching from Tibet down to jungles that border Vietnam.  Due to its location, the province is very diverse in its agricultural products and is inhabited by more ethnic groups than any other area, each having their own specialty dishes.  Various tribes traveled through the area for centuries and brought a variety of herbs and spices to the region’s cuisine.  Herbs such as cilantro, Vietnamese coriander, perilla leaves, and pandan fronds are commonly found in the dishes of this province, as well as an assortment of mushrooms and chilies.  Fresh dishes such as spicy mint salad and wok-sautéed maitake mushrooms showcase the connection between the diverse vegetation and local fare.

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Macau  ·  APR 23 MENU

Macau is composed of a small peninsula and two islands, and is often associated with its Hong Kong neighbor.  Like Hong Kong, for 450 years the region was a Portuguese colony, it was not until 1999 that the Chinese government assumed formal sovereignty. Considering its history the food of this province has heavy European influences, much more than any other area of China.  The traditional Portuguese flavors can be tasted in Macanese Bacalau, a salt cod dish composed of potatoes and black olives as well as some Chinese ingredients such as coconut cream and ginger.

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Guangdong  ·  MAY 7 MENU

Guangdong (formerly Canton), a coastal region of Southeast China bordering Hong Kong and Macau, has three branches of cuisine — Guangzhou, Chazhou and Dongjiang. The province in known for using a wide variety of ingredients that is able to offer food for all tastes. The cuisine of Guangzhou (the capital of the province) is the most widespread food you will find in Guangdong. The dishes change seasonally, offering lighter and brighter flavors in the summer and autumn, and stronger yet mellow flavors in the spring and winter. The cuisine of Guangzhou tends to be lighter and focuses on more nutritious dishes that aid in good health. Chazhou takes influence from their southern neighbors and provide similar flavors to Fujian food. Dishes here often incorporate seafood and a variety of soups; the flavors and textures tend to be thicker, sweeter, and richer.  Lastly, Dongjiang cuisine concentrates on using domestic animals and poultry, and the flavors of this style tend to be slightly salty with simple sauces. Cheung Fun Rolls, although very popular around the country, originated in Guangdong. The Cantonese translation of Cheung fun is “pig intestine noodle”. The noodles appearance is similar to intestine, but in reality is a deliciously steamed noodle made of rice and can be filled with pork belly and a variety of other ingredients.

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Hainan/Hakka · MAY 14 MENU

Hainan is a small island located in the South China Sea. The cuisine of this area is influenced by a mix of Chaozhou (an eastern city in Guangdong province), Southern Fujian, and Hawaii. With its subtropical location, seafood and tropical fruits are a very important part of the local fare. That said, the most popular dish of the region uses neither: Hainan Chinese Chicken and Rice is the region’s famed recipe. A simple yet rich and indulgent dish, it consists of slow braised chicken atop white rice cooked in the rendered chicken juices.

The population of Hainan consists primarily of the Hakka people whose ancestors migrated to the Southlands from Northern China due to civil unrest. As people continued to migrate south over a number of years, this migration eventually developed a cuisine that would become the backbone of Southern China’s heartiest recipes. Hakka food is unique in that it is defined by a group of people rather than a region. The fare tends to be simply seasoned with a variety of dried fruits and fermented ingredients. Mei Cai Kou Rou, a dish consisting of braised pork belly and fermented mustard greens, is a lovely example of the simplicity and creativity of Hakka cuisine.

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Tibet  ·  MAY 21 MENU

The traditional food of Tibet consists of Yak meat, mutton, milk products, highland barley, and potato.  The most common cooking methods in this province are to stew, braise, simmer, steam, fry, and roast. Proteins such as yak and goat are commonly used in Tibet due to its Buddhist belief that it is better to eat larger animals than smaller ones (such as fish and fowl) because fewer lives are sacrificed to feed the same amount of people.  The most important crop of Tibet is barley, which is commonly milled into flour called tsampa that is used very often in the cuisine. Dairy products are also very important to the cuisine and culture of the area, especially yak milk products which are known for their health benefits. Another very popular dish of the province are delicious stuffed and steamed dumplings called “momos.”

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 Shanghai  ·  MAY 28 MENU

The dishes of Shanghai are often referred to as the “children of a thousand mothers,” as the province can be easily accessed by the Grand Canal, its close proximity to railroads and highways, and its western influence.  It is difficult to define the tastes and textures of the province due to its varied influences from various cuisines.  The people of Shanghai refer to their fare as “our gang’s food”, which is highly seasonal and features a large amount of both saltwater and freshwater fish.  Grandma Tang’s roast pork buns are my (Cecile) grandmother’s  Shanghainese influence of a classic northern dish.  A Shanghai specialty is a dish called Lion’s Head, which is a dish composed of oversized meatballs that are surround by cabbage, resembling the mane of a lion.

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Where to begin?

So we are kicking off our restaurant blog two years late – no longer a small mother/daughter restaurant, but a multi-restaurant group, called Eighty Ate Hospitality with two, soon-to-be three, restaurants and an amazing team.  Two winters ago, while trying to keep busy during snowstorms, we had the idea to share with the world different aspects of our industry.  We were just kicking off our Tour of Asia and had to cancel two Sunday suppers because of a projected six to twelve inches of snow.  And so here we are again, only this time we are going to make our blog stick!

This winter at Tao Yuan, after just returning from a three week tour of China with my Bao Bao kitchen manager Josh Amergian, we decided to run a Sunday dinner series exploring the regional cuisines of China.  After having lived in both Shanghai and Beijing for four years before moving back to Maine, the one thing I missed more than anything else was regional Chinese cuisine.  Trips to Chinatown would satiate some of the more mainstream loves I have for mapo doufu, dry fried green beans, and kung pao chicken, but I never came across some of the more obscure and delicious dishes that I would find every day in China.  Some of that might be because I couldn’t communicate everything to the kitchen (my Chinese has steadily gone downhill since moving back and it was not that good to begin with), but most of it lies in the fact that mainstream America is not totally on board with the way the Chinese approach food: eating everything, chewing around bones, cracking through crab shells, learning to share, etc. This is slowly changing and our regional dinners are a way to be a part of this change and to help expose the delights of regional Chinese cuisine.

Our journey generally progresses from north to south, as the foods farther north tend to be heartier and heavier for the winter.  We are starting with Shanxi, a landlocked part of northern China that is famous for the terra-cotta warriors, black vinegar, and many styles of noodles. We’ll be making biang biang noodles, which have three unknown fables of its name’s origin and one of the most complicated written characters in the Chinese language.  They are a version of pulled noodles that are flatter and fatter than the thin ones most commonly found in La Mian shops, both in China and the US.  We are also making dao xiao mian, or hand shaved noodles, though we are not as skilled as the gentleman in the video, and a pasta dish of cat’s ears noodles with caramelized pork belly and eggplant soup garnished with Shanxi vinegar and chili oil.  The rest of the menu is composed of simple regional dishes that highlight the produce and cultural aspects of the arid landscape: loads of garlic, vinegar, cabbage and pork. (The Han Chinese are the primary ethnic group in the Shanxi region and pork is their staple meat.)

From Shanxi we will go east to Shandong, famous for its love of garlic and technical cookery.  Being at the mouth of the Yellow River, there is an abundance of seafood in their cuisine.

My mom and I have fond memories of being together in Beijing where we would wake up and go to the market for breakfast.  In the far corner of the wet market were a husband and wife team from Shandong that would make some incredible, extra large, extra dry versions of a jian bing with corn meal in the batter and lettuce in the wrap. They were our favorite.  This year when Josh and I were in Beijing, we tried to find them, but alas, they were closed for the lunar New Year and had already migrated home for the holiday.

From Shandong, we will be heading to Xinjiang, Beijing Kao Ya, Sichuan, Hunan, Yunan, Macau, Hainan, Tibet, and will finish with my ancestry, Shanghainese.   We will still be leaving out so much, but there’s always next year!   I fell in love with food when I was in China.  When I moved back to the US, the three things I couldn’t stop craving were jian bings (savory Chinese crepes), zha jiang mian (hand pulled noodles with shredded fresh vegetables and a salty pork brown bean sauce), and gan bian si ji dou (dry cooked green beans).  Below is a recipe for jian bings; it is complicated and requires a bit of finesse, but is delicious and can be eaten any time of day.  My second favorite version of this dish is with a a chicken or pork cutlet, pounded it out like schnitzel, breaded and fried, and wrapped in the bing!  It makes an excellent hangover prevention if consumed before passing out.

Jian Bing Batter

80g buckwheat flour
80g millet flour
80g AP flour
80g chickpea flour
450g water
8pc whole eggs

Whisk dry ingredients together in one bowl.  In another bowl mix the water and eggs, whisk together both dry and wet ingredients and salt to taste.  Let rest for at least 30 minutes, it can also sit over night and hold for several days in the fridge.

Jian Bing Sauce

100g hoisin
50g brown bean paste
15g Chinese shrimp paste

Mix all three and quickly cook on the stove, if you desire a thinner sauce feel free to add water to consistency.

Chili Oil

6pt canola oil
1pt dry Arbol chilies

Pulse dry chilies in a robo coupe(cuisinart), mortar and pestle pestle, or blender until almost a powder. Heat oil to 275*F and pour over powdered chilies.  Let cool.


Chiffonade scallions
Chopped cilantro
Sesame seeds
Fried wontons
Pickled daikon
Fried chicken cutlet
Grilled mushrooms

Turn the burner onto to medium to medium high heat.  Use a lightly greased 12in crepe pan or 12” nonstick sauté pan  Pour 1/3c of batter into the warm pan and quickly distribute the batter to form a very thin crepe, do not worry about wholes.   Crack in one whole egg , break the yolk and distribute the egg over the crepe filling in any whole you had on your first go.   Sprinkle with sesame seeds while the egg is still runny if you like.  One the egg is mostly set on the pancake, flip over and brush with a tablespoon of brown sauce and chili oil. Sprinkle with scallion, cilantro, and a fried wonton for crunch.  The toppings are endless, fill with a fried chicken cutlet, grilled mushrooms, lettuce, pickles, hotdogs, whatever you please!  Fold up and enjoy!

–Cara Stadler, Feb 17, 2017