Chef Jackie Kai Ellis on Buttery Pigeon, ’90s R&B and Grandma’s Dumplings | Pop-In@Nordstrom Eats
Over the monthlong course of Pop-In@Nordstrom Eats–the current, culinary edition of our always-changing Pop-In Shop–we’ll be bringing you interviews and recipes from some of the best and brightest chefs around. This series is in participation with our own powerhouse restaurants division as well as Cherry Bombe magazine, the beautiful publication focused on women and food.
Image by Jake Rosenberg
Chef Jackie Kai Ellis had an existential crisis, quit her design company and learned how to make perfect pastries in Paris. Now she’s a major factor in Vancouver’s culinary scene as the leader of Beaucoup Bakery & Cafe–and a prolific food writer with a column in The Vancouver Sun.
Check out our Q&A below to learn about Chef Jackie’s literary hero (it’s the same person as her culinary hero), her love for Erykah Badu–and for the details on two original recipes: a yuzu pudding cake and a roasted potato salad, both of which rule.
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Nordstrom blogs: If you were stranded on a desert island—a desert island which happened to have knives, fire, a stove, pots, pans, etc.—what would be the five most essential ingredients you’d want with you?
Jackie Kai Ellis: Funny, I feel especially prepared to answer this since I’ve been living quite rurally for the last two months! I won’t choose salt because I’m assuming I’ll be surrounded by salt water. It would have to be olive oil, sugar, garlic, flour and tomato paste. (The last one surprises me too.)
If you could cook for any person living or dead, who would it be? Why and what would you make for them?
M.F.K. Fisher, my culinary and literary hero. I would make her something simple but that I know satisfies her soul like freshly shucked oysters with lemon and champagne, a simple salad with fresh, local greens, a buttery cooked pigeon and a dessert of fine cheeses and sweet clementines.
Which culinary specialty from your region do you love the most? What’s another one that you think most outsiders don’t know about?
Our Asian food is some of the best I’ve had. We are so diverse in Vancouver and can find some of the most delicious and authentic Asian dishes in our own backyards. And I think many don’t travel to Richmond to explore the plethora of restaurants we have just 20 minutes away! Imagine feasts of juicy and caramelized BBQ pork, perfect Hainanese chicken, ramen and xiao long bao!
What’s your single favorite vegetable?
Changes with seasons but right now, citrus. Lemons, oranges and yuzu.
I do love seafood, oysters, shrimp, salmon, lobster.
Sweet (food, not ingredient)?
I don’t eat a lot of sweets, but a chocolate chip cookie cannot be beat.
Savory (food, not ingredient)?
Whenever I see a boudin noir, I always get it. I also have a soft spot for French onion soup.
How about your “I’m having a bad day, I deserve this” go-to comfort food?
I tend to eat what I crave almost always, so it depends on the day. But I have to say, if I’m having an awful day, there’s nothing a perfect Old Fashioned cocktail can’t fix!
Please detail for us the best meal you’ve ever had and what you loved about it.
Since I’ve been writing a food memoir called The Measure of My Powers with Random House Appetite for the last few months, so many amazing food memories are swimming around in my mind! I’ve eaten the most ethereal gnocchi in Bologna; Michelin-starred meals all over France; had some of the best chefs and friends cook for me…. But I must say, the best meal I’ll ever have is still my grandmother’s pork, chive and shrimp dumplings. The wrappers are so thin, just substantial and chewy enough to hold its savory filling. When dipped in black vinegar with pungent minced garlic, it really grounds me.
What’s on your perfect playlist for cooking at home?
It really ranges! I love almost all types of music. Although I have a soft spot for 1990s R&B and hip-hop when I want to laugh and have fun. I’ve really enjoyed Erykah Badu’s But You Caint Use My Phone album more than a few times. Oh, and Stevie Wonder is always a good choice.
What inspired you to become a chef?
Food brought a lot of rest and inspiration to me at a time when things didn’t seem so clear. It was a connection I had to life and others, and I followed it as far as I could. That meant shutting down my design firm and going to Paris to study pastries. I never intended on becoming a chef, and I still don’t know if I call myself one. All I wanted to do was immerse myself in something that I deeply loved. I opened Beaucoup Bakery because I wanted others to taste and be fed by the same things that nourished me in my life.
And now it’s time for the recipes…
LEMON YUZU PUDDING CAKES
Makes 8 individual cakes in ramekins.
¾ cup whipping cream
½ cup yogurt (a thick Greek yogurt is best)
2 lemons, zested
½ cup lemon juice
¼ cup Yakami Orchard yuzu juice
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
⅔ cup granulated sugar plus ½ cup for coating the ramekins
3 eggs, separated
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks and lightly sweetened to taste
1 cup seasonal berries
¼ cup edible flower petals
Simple & Crisp orange crisps
Icing sugar to dust
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter the ovenproof ramekins. Dust and coat the inside of the vessels with a light layer of sugar.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together the cream, yogurt, zest, lemon and yuzu juices and let sit.
3. In a large bowl, mix together butter and sugar until well incorporated. Add the yolks and mix well until light in color.
4. Add the cream and juice mixture in three additions, alternating with the flour in two additions, mixing between each addition with a whisk.
5. In a clean bowl or the bowl of a mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk the whites and salt until they are soft peaks. (When you lift the whisk, the peak of the egg will hold but the tip will droop ever so slightly).
6. Fold the whites into the batter gently and pour into your ramekins.
7. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. You will know it is done when the outer edge is baked and puffed but the center still jiggles when shaken. Let cool at least 30 minutes.
8. Top with whipped cream, flowers, berries and orange crisps, dust with icing sugar and serve.
ROASTED POTATO SALAD WITH PICKLED ONIONS AND CANDIED SALMON
A twist on the classic, the addition of salmon candy is meant to bring smokiness and sweetness. The pickles add acidity and brightness.
For roasting potatoes:
2 pounds (900 grams) small red-skin potatoes, halved or quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled
¼ cup ILA extra-virgin olive oil [ed.: available in physical Pop-In locations]
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 large sprigs of thyme
6 strips of lemon peel
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Mix all the ingredients on a sheet tray lined with parchment. Place in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes or until golden and crisp on the edges.
For the aioli:
1 clove garlic, grated
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ a lemon, zested
¼ cup ILA extra-virgin olive oil
Whisk together all ingredients except the oil. Slowly add the oil in a thin stream while whisking and continue until the mixture begins to thicken and lighten. Can be made 2 hours ahead and kept refrigerated.
To assemble the salad:
½ cup Olympia Provisions cocktail onions
½ cup smoky candied salmon, broken into small chunks
⅓ cup Italian parsley leaves
⅓ cup celery leaves
1 celery stalk, diced
6 radishes, sliced thinly
Generous pinch of ILA black lava sea salt
Place potatoes on a plate or in a bowl. Top with pickled onions, candied salmon, parsley, celery leaves, celery and radishes. Drizzle aioli onto the salad right before serving and mix if desired.