Abby Samulcek is a self-taught pastry chef, so she wanted to get experience in as many kitchens as possible to round out her skill set. To that end, the Kansas City native's resume includes 801 Chophouse, Dolce Bakery, Dean & DeLuca, 801 Fish and 3 Women and a Bakery.
About two years ago, she landed at Bloom Baking Co., where she serves up artisan breads, muffins, cakes and French macarons alongside owner Sarah Darby. We caught up with Samulcek to talk Mexican food, laminated dough and why unexpected combinations work so well.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? I actually don't get to work with it much here, but my favorite thing to work with is yeasted doughs. I did lamination at Baked; I was their sous pastry chef there, and they did a lot of laminating and different things. Even at Dolce, I got to do a lot of yeasted cinnamon rolls there, and it's one of my favorite things to work with in artisan breads. I love how dough – it’s kind of alive, and you get the yeast smell. It sounds kinda weird [laughs] but it’s one of those things I love working with. It changes and it’s very much dependent on its environment. It's not always the same when it comes out, it's not always ready at the same time. It’s a really cool process.
Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique? It depends. I do like doing unexpected sweet and savory combinations, like we did an ice cream last summer and it was blueberry-sage, just to try to bring in that herbal-ness and a good mix of things. I like doing a little bit unexpected things or combinations and stuff like that. I always try to take something people know and love and expect and try to do something that’s unexpected.
What's your perfect day of eating in Kansas City? That’s hard! When I am off, I like going to Café Sebestienne for brunch. My girlfriend and I will go there every once in a while for brunch. It's great to sit around all the art. They have a courtyard [dining area] where it's glass above, and then you’re completely surrounded wall to wall with art, and obviously it’s inside the Kemper Museum [of Contemporary Art]. I like going to brunch there. I love Mexican food. I can't think of a specific place that’s my favorite. I’ll sometimes go down to the Boulevard to one of those hole-in-the-wall places, or in KCK there’s some. I’ll go to The Antler Room sometimes and get small plates, or Corvino [Supper Club & Tasting Room]. If I'm up for a cocktail I’ll definitely go to The Rieger. They have the best Old Fashioned in the city. I’m a sucker for Old Fashioneds, and they have my favorite.
Who are Kansas City pastry chefs you admire at the moment? You know, Jessica [Brazeal] over at Novel, she's awesome. She's done some really creative [stuff]; their restaurant overall is awesome. I love going there. We did an event there before they opened their new location, and she did a mousse that was really good. I think she’s really talented and stands out for sure. I haven’t had Elizabeth Paradise’s stuff in a while, but she’s also really talented. I think she’s still at Story.
What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in Kansas City? Italian. I would love to be able to go to a really amazing Italian restaurant with fresh-made pasta. We have some of that in Kansas City, but I think it's lacking. That’s something where it’s like, 'Oh man, I could go for some really good pasta.' Like Bella Napoli. I’m really excited to go to the new Parlor [food hall]. I think that’ll be really cool because it's all different concepts under one roof. It’ll be cool to see some new, fresh culinary talent with different takes on this stuff.
What do you like to cook at home or on your day off? I do cook at home; it's definitely been less and less because it’s not something I feel like doing all the time after work. I like a nice piece of fish or simple sides like green beans and potatoes. It's straightforward food. I'm not as creative when I'm at home cooking, because like I said, I'm tired by the time I get home. I love being able to do special events and stuff. When I'm here at Bloom, we're doing classic French pastries and tarts, and it's fun every once in a while – like we participated in the James Beard dinner last year and we were part of the cocktail hour and that was fun being a part of that. I love doing those events, and I don't get to do them as much as I used to, but it kind of breaks up the normal pastries and straightforward cupcakes that we do here on a regular basis.
What's your favorite comfort food? My favorite food is Mexican food, honestly. I grew up making it at home and we’d assemble enchiladas. My sister and I would assemble enchiladas with my mom. Every year – my sister no longer lives in Kansas City – and for our birthday we celebrate it when she comes in town, and we always have homemade Mexican food over Christmas for a birthday dinner. It's just one of those things that's always comforting. And I could eat Mexican food every day.
What’s the most intriguing dish you’ve made recently, and why? Well we just did – it’s not that intriguing, though, [laughs] – have you heard of Our Daily Nada, the bar/bookstore? We’re doing their pastries, so I came up with a mac for them, a French macaron that we're doing and it's an Earl Grey mac. I thought it would be good; it makes you [think] of curling up with a good book, with a cup of tea. And we’re also doing a blueberry franzipan tart for them as well. When I did that James Beard event last year, it was really fun. I did a roulade that was vanilla sponge cake that I did with raspberry jam, and I coated it with dark chocolate ganache and did a graham cracker garnish with walnuts. And it was really good. I really liked doing that one. It was kind of like a European style of different flavors. I don't get to step out as much as I'd like to with just the typical bakery-style desserts that we do here. Every once in a while, like we switch up our monthly mac flavor, so that's fun to come up with a different flavor. This month we’re doing peanut butter and jelly for back to school so that’s kinda fun.
What inspires your cooking? How do you approach R&D, and what inspires that process? Well, it depends on the time of year. I'll start by thinking what's seasonal, what do I go for in the spring? Or what am I craving in the summer? And I start with that. [At the] event we did at Novel it was so cold, and I was ready for summer, so I did a take on a banana split, because I craved ice cream because it was so cold and I was ready for warm weather. I kinda deconstructed it: I did a layered mousse cake, a banana ice cream and strawberry mousse, vanilla mousse and chocolate mousse. It was layered, and I garnished it with a cherry sauce and a banana pastry cream. It's fun to be able to do that kind of stuff, do a different take on something expected. We also do a lot of custom cakes here, and that's another artistic way that I get to express [myself]. It's anything from a custom wedding with gold leaf, to every once in a while we’ll do some shaped cakes and that can be fun. I'll use icing as my medium and recreate different images on a cake and that's fun too.
What are your future plans? I've thought about opening my own place here in Kansas City; I have a pretty clear vision of what I want, but it takes a lot of capital to do that. So I'm kind of trying to see what it would take to get me to that place. Ideally, that's what I would want within the next five years, to have my own café-style [bakery] and do craft cocktails and plated desserts. That's probably a little ways out, once I can figure out how to get it funded.
Bloom Baking Co., 15 E. Third St., City Market, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.283.8437, bloombakingco.com