Salty Tart's Michelle Gayer: chef chat, part 3
At the Salty Tart, chef-owner Michelle Gayer runs a kitchen that's "mostly girls," an anomaly in the restaurant world. Today, in the third part of our interview with her (here are parts 1 and 2), she talks about what it's like to "hang with the boys," why she thinks women are better at cooking, and why she'd rather cook for her daughters than anyone else.
What is your favorite knife or kitchen tool?
The dough sheeter. It's this machine that rolls the dough perfectly evenly. You can crank it down so it rolls things thinner or thicker. It was the first dream thing I bought.
What is the weirdest thing you've ever eaten?
When I was in Singapore, we had this soup, and the translation I got out of it was that it was fish sperm in it, or fish business.
How did it taste?
It was just nothing but inappropriate, you know. It was salty... We were in Singapore, and I was with Charlie Trotter, and we went to the Four Seasons. It's supposed to be the best sushi bar in Singapore. There's like eight of us. Chef Trotter says, "Just start cooking stuff, and we'll eat whatever you make us."
I couldn't eat half the things. More sake, please.
What is your best culinary tip for a home cook?
Practice, practice, practice. People go, "Oh, I made that once, and I didn't really like it."
How do you get good at riding a bike? You gotta practice. You can't just make it once. You should have seen my first frosted cake. Everything takes practice.
You should probably read the recipe more than once. The first time I made chocolate chip cookies I didn't even read the recipe. I just thought everything went into the mixing bowl. I had to be seven or eight.
What is your favorite dish to cook at home?
I like to do a lot of Asian cooking at home. Whatever we find at United Noodle and cook up. We're pretty spontaneous.
If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
It might have to be just my daughters. I think they're great. They're funny. And they like food. They're into it. "Mom, this cauliflower doesn't have much flavor." Really? Since when are you the junior food critic at the table? They eat everything. Last night we had duck confit and shrimp risotto, Brussels sprouts. I made cauliflower soup with kale.
Are your daughters interested in cooking?
Just the other day my daughter said, "I'm going to take over my mother's business." We have never talked about it. I said okay, 'cause your mom wants to retire at about 60. No, she doesn't have to. Whatever she wants to do.
What is the hardest lesson you've learned about cooking?
It's just all about food cost and labor cost. Eyes and ears and elbows up all the time. You always have to watch what's going on around you at all times. Elbows up in the kitchen. It's always all boys in the kitchen. Except for the Salty Tart--it's mostly girls.
Is it different being a woman chef?
Yeah, because it's a male-driven world. You can't be girly, you can't be too masculine, you gotta be able to hold your own. You just can't be like, "Oh, I can't reach that." Then if you're too manly you have competition. Then you gotta hang out with the boys' club after work.
I think women are better at cooking. I think women have a better heightened sense of awareness. They can manage a lot more things better than a man can. Multitasking.
What do you think is the best food city in America?
I'm going to have to say Chicago.
Any restaurants you miss the most in Chicago?
The restaurants my friends work at. Urban belly I love to go to. Graham Elliot. All the people I used to work with now own their own places.
What is your favorite restaurant in America?
I think it would have to be Charlie Trotter's, just because they take such good care of you. I really love good service. I like when you can re-silver me and I don't even notice.
What is your favorite Twin Cities restaurant other than your own?
My daughters love going out for sushi, so we're always going to Midori's Floating World.
What if it was your birthday and someone wanted to take you out?
You should probably take me to La Belle Vie, please.
Who is your favorite celebrity chef?
I think that would have to be Andrew Zimmern. I think he's good people.
Which celebrity chef do you think should shut up?
So many. I don't have the Food Network. I don't have cable, so I don't watch any of that.
Do you have a show you would like to pitch to the Food Network?
I'm not the one. I like to cook; I don't like to be a producer's puppet, and I don't want to demo flourless chocolate cakes with raspberry and whipped cream.
What's in the future?
A stand-alone place. We're looking for a building and a neighborhood for the Salty Tart to grow up in, to be part of the community. That's in the next six months to a year hopefully. You never know.
We're growing out of this spot. We have to turn away business. There' s just not enough space-- cooler space, storage space.