Photo Journal: Natasha Pickowicz
Natasha Pickowicz is a pastry chef & writer based in Brooklyn. We spent the day with Natasha and her cat Tini in their fuzzy-lawned Greenpoint backyard, as she prepared dinner for dinner with friends. Read on, reader, for a delightful bursting-with-summer interview complete with Natasha's favorite spots for martinis and french fries, and her ice cream dreams.
Describe your perfect day in Brooklyn.
Every morning, before the sun is too direct and the air is still cool, I’ll make a cup of coffee (pour over, Parlor) and go out back with my mug and check in on my garden. It’s my favorite part of the day, to see how everything grew a little bit more while I was sleeping. I’m growing some familiar-to-me-plants like tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, kale, lettuces, arugula and herbs, and lots of more cheffy plants like Thai chiles, golden amaranth, tulsi, bronze fennel, and lemongrass. I take my time weeding and pruning and watching the bees and butterflies. If this is a perfect day we’re talking about, then I’ll have a book with me. I’ve been reading poetry by Li-Young Lee and Walt Whitman, poems about peaches and summer and “nature without check with original energy.”
I’ll cook something simple for myself for breakfast, like steamed rice and ponzu or buttered toast, wilted greens, braised beans and a big salad, and eat outside before the sun gets too strong. I always have a few quarts of iced mujicha (barley tea) ready to go. This to me is the flavor of summer. I eat and drink whatever I want at night, but for breakfast and lunch I try to keep things reasonable so I don’t get sluggish when I try to write. My weekly exception is the ipad-sized Darren Vito, this insane, crispy panino from Archestratus, my favorite bookstore in the world that is also an Italian cafe and market. This sandwich squishes together mortadella, roasted red peppers, caciocavallo, and a breadcrumb spread (what is a breadcrumb spread!). It’s divine. Half of one is a full meal for sure. On a perfect day in Brooklyn I am definitely eating that sandwich.
Then I am going for a walk, really taking my time, at least 6 or 7 miles but hopefully more like 9 or 11. Greenpoint to Roosevelt Island is only 3 miles, and I love walking up to Hunters Point, up the East river, cross over to Roosevelt Island, and then wind my way around the island, from the lighthouse to the Louis Kahn memorial, and then home. That’s a pretty perfect walk for a perfect day, the breezes and ocean spray coming off the river always feels so good. Then I’ll come home, or maybe stop first at Achilles Heel, Amber Steakhouse, or Chez Ma Tante for a few vodka martinis and french fries. Then, home, rub the soft grey belly of my kitty Tini, put on a few Simpsons episodes, catch up with my parents. That’s a perfect day for sure.
We chatted A LOT about ice cream while we were at your house - what is your favorite flavor to make?
Making ice cream is the number one pastry project that I miss the most from working in restaurants. I don’t have an ice cream machine at home so whenever I have a Never Ending Taste pop-up I look forward to writing the ice cream part of the menu the most.
In the summer, I’ll steep dairy with the fresh, bright flavors of herbs like lemon verbena, anise hyssop, and Thai basil. Lately, I’ve been playing around a lot with using the leaves from fruit trees, which have their own, subtle flavors and, depending on the time of the year, are easy to score in abundance. The fresh, new leaves from peach and fig trees impart a subtle tropical, coconutty, almondy essence to dairy, fat and sweets in general. I also love super rich ice cream flavors, like black sesame, Adzuki bean, and hazelnut, and very bright, tart sorbet flavors, like roasted plum, unstrained strawberry, and bracing citrus like Yuzu. And also nothing is really better than vanilla bean.
My “unicorn” ice cream flavors are coffee (I can never get it as intense or rich or as coffee as I want) and melon (fruit like cantaloupe and honeydew are often so subtle that adding sugar and serving them cold ruins their delicate notes). Someday I will figure these flavors out and be proud of them.
How has your approach to baking changed since you started Never Ending Taste?
Because it’s so ephemeral and comes together so quickly, with very little money, staffing, space, and any other resources, Never Ending Taste really makes me appreciate being in the moment with my work—I’m still learning to relax my own expectations for everything to be “perfect” and “dialed in,” which was something that was always drilled into me when I was working in fancy restaurants, and lean into the side of me that wants to be bigger and bolder and more messy and lush. The pop-ups allow me to be more playful with plating and presentation and to also take advantage of hyper-seasonal ingredients like red currants and donut peaches. In a restaurant setting, often the recipe testing process for developing a new dish can take so long, an ingredient will be available and then disappear before I have a chance to even sell the dish!
The customers who buy pastries from me are the sweetest, coolest, best people, and I think their positivity reinforces that I should keep going. It’s just a slice of cake, in a paper boat, maybe a little lopsided, but totally made from scratch and with love. In that sense, doing the pop-up helped me revisit why I love pastry so much. It’s a chance to connect with other people.
What is your first baking memory?
As my parents LOVE to remind me, when I was little I was obsessed with baking the cornbread from the Jiffy box (I think you just add milk and an egg!) for our Thanksgiving feast every year. I think it was my way of “contributing” to the meal so I always felt super proud. I love those box mixes—they still give you the sense of accomplishment that only baking can do! My boyfriend has a good brownie box mix hack—he adds mezcal and fernet to the batter, which adds smokiness and big flavor.
Many of your bake sales have a giving component! Can you tell us a little bit about the organizations you work with and how your partnerships came to be?
Organizing the bake sales really revealed a lot to me about the role pastry plays in my life and the kind of person I want to be. The bake sale is full of joy and connection and ease. They’re so FUN. It’s people coming together over sweets after all. There’s something very approachable about cookies on a paper plate. Everyone can participate. It felt really important to me to have a way to connect with people in a pastry context without relying on the fancy, old-school models of “fine dining” which I actually think can be really alienating and exclusive.
I have been building my relationships with local organizations for years. For me, that means getting to know the people that work there. Being a part of their programming in some way. Spending time on their property. Tying in their mission into my pop-ups. In this way, I’m on the Culinary Council at God’s Love We Deliver, and the Industry Advisory Board at the Food Education Fund. I also have a really special relationship with the amazing team at the Teaching Kitchen at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, which I first encountered when I was working at the Met Breuer and was trying to see what was on the Upper East Side outside of fancy fashion boutiques and mansions. And of course, it was such an honor to fundraise over $125,000 for the Planned Parenthood of Greater New York via the bake sales I organized from 2017 to 2019. Allying with these organizations gives my work meaning and reaffirms my love of pastry. I don’t think I’d still be in pastry if it weren’t for these kind of relationships.
What is always in your fridge / kitchen?
Fizzy water, barley tea, oolong tea, Parlor coffee. Hummus, cheese, eggs, tortillas, cabbage, and about 10-12 jars of jam from different places at any given time (right now my favorites are from June Taylor and Camilla Wynne, probably the two best jam makers in North America if you ask me!). Natural wine from my boyfriend’s wine shop, Radicle Wine. Ketchup. Peas, Vodka, bread scraps, roti, butter in the freezer.
I also keep a lot of my baking staples in the freezer so they don’t spoil, like nuts, flours, leaveners, and yeast. I buy most of my “everyday” groceries from Archestratus, which is amazing because Archestratus is really a bookstore. I buy ground pork, whole chickens, Parmesan, ricotta, flawless vegetables (the cucumbers! The basil! If you know, you know) from Bodhitree Farm, the sesame sourdough from She Wolf. Archestratus also sells a great range of Gustiamo imports, so I stock up on Iasa hot peppers, dried beans, Italian rice and barley, and liter cans of olive oil. When I was working full-time in restaurants, I rarely ate any meals at home, let alone three meals a day. Building out my pantry and refrigerator to be full and ready to go at all times has been one of the more satisfying developments of my 2021 life.
Can you please tell us about your excellent eye makeup!
I have naturally very short, fine, and straight Chinese eyelashes, and I’ve probably been doing the same winged eyeliner shape for at least 15 years now, which is crazy. I should mix it up! I’ll do a few pumps with an eyelash curler, then black pencil, then I paint in the wing tip with liquid eyeliner so the point looks crisp, then a few coats of mascara. I think all the products I have right now are L’Oreal, but I love Chanel mascara too. And that’s it, no other makeup. Lots of moisturizer and sunscreen, of course.
Who would you love most to bake for (living or otherwise) and what would you bake for them?
I’ve already baked for Ina Garten, so I can cross that one off my list, haha. I love to bake a big, weird layer cake festooned with flowers and plants for Kate Bush.
Natasha's Guide to Brooklyn (& beyond)
295 Grand Street
Chez Ma Tante
90 Calyer St
(Long Island City) 5-48 49th Ave
(Manhattan) 430 E. 9th St
119 Nassau Ave
Giando on the Water
400 Kent Ave
80 Wythe Ave
732 Manhattan Ave
180 West St
Markets & Grocery
160 Huron St
(Manhattan) 123 Lexington Ave
(Manhattan) 104 Avenue B
(Manhattan) 163 W. 10th St
(Manhattan) 102 3rd Ave