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.

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.

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!

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