Arts & Culture

At the table with Brandt Heckert

Pastiche pastry chef pledges support to local food sourcing, defends love of dark chocolate

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 2014

The word “Pastiche” belies a mix — a hodgepodge of sorts — and makes an appropriate appellation for the Federal Hill bakery specializing in cake, cookies, tarts, truffles and more. Yet the combination at the heart of this 30-year Providence powerhouse is not one of textures, flavors or colors — though those are all notable elements of the shop’s success — but rather the bilateral union of baker and chef.

“There’s a lot of science behind baking — you have to be precise. You have to be consistent,” said baker Brandt Heckert, who owns Pastiche with his wife, chef Eileen Collins. “With cooking, you have a lot more leewayIf something is not coming out right you can adjust it as you go.”

As co-owners of a successful bakery, the couple is well-matched — each contributes the skills of his or her respective craft to the business. “I can replicate recipes over and over in the same way and people really appreciate that,” Brandt said. “My wife is a better cook. She’s the creative side.”

The serendipitous duo worked their way up through service industry jobs at local restaurants until an opportunity arose to provide retail desserts to Eileen’s employer at the time.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Brandt said. “We both didn’t have career paths, so to speak, so we started getting into the dessert business on a casual basis, and we realized there was something to it.”

With no business plan in mind, the couple incorporated food mania, the coffee craze and the local food movement into their synergetic conclusion — a part-retail, part-cafe space that has drawn sweet-toothed swarms to the heart of Rhode Island’s food mecca, Federal Hill, since 1983.

Brandt sat down with The Herald to discuss baking, eating local and his penchant for both vegetables and chocolate in the latest installment of “At the Table.”

 

What’s your earliest memory in the kitchen?

My mother was a pretty good cook, and she baked a little bit, so I certainly remember being around her in the kitchen. Speaking for (Eileen), she used to bake with her grandmother who was Irish, and she remembers her mother making rolls everyday.

What was your go-to college food or meal?

I don’t know because I didn’t go to college. I always ate pretty well; I wasn’t a junk-food junkie. When I was very young out of high school I moved out west to Oregon. There was a sort of hippie craze going on there, so I used to eat a lot of brown rice and vegetables.

What’s your favorite thing to cook and why?

My favorite thing to cook is simple vegetables. I love in-season vegetables cooked in a natural way.

What’s (your) spirit food?

I do appreciate locally raised meats. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I do appreciate meat, especially the naturally-raised stuff.

What do you think makes Providence a good food city?

I think it’s a combination of its size and proximity to major cities, as well as the college scene. Certainly having Brown, RISD and Johnson and Wales all within the city has been a major influence on the food scene. The students, the faculty and the people associated with the facilities create a market.

How would you describe your food philosophy?

From the beginning, we decided that we would make real desserts. At the time, people were mixing things out of a supermarket bakery or a local bakery that would use mixers for its cake. They wouldn’t even use real chocolate. We had trouble convincing people that dark chocolate was at least as good, if not preferable, to milk chocolate.

How does food fit into a larger conversation about culture?

I think now with the conversation about “know your food maker” and local sourcing, people think more about where their food comes from and how important it is to support local growers. The issue is much more important than 20 years ago, and definitely more than 50 years ago, when things were coming out of cans.

What’s your favorite midnight snack?

A really fantastic piece of dark chocolate.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

 

Oven-Roasted Vegetables

About the recipe:

Other vegetables (and herbs) can be substituted or added depending on what type you enjoy or what’s in season. It’s interesting to change the combinations — just use the time and temperature as guidelines.

 

Ingredients

1 small butternut squash, cubed

1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed

2 large carrots sliced thick

2 bell peppers (red or green), seeded and diced

3 potatoes, cubed

1 onion, quartered

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F (245 degrees C).

In a large bowl, combine the squash, red bell peppers, sweet potato, and Yukon Gold potatoes. Separate the red onion quarters into pieces, and add them to the mixture.

In a small bowl, stir together thyme, rosemary, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Toss with vegetables until they are coated. Spread evenly on a large roasting pan.

Roast for 35 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven, stirring every 10 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked through and browned.

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