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Making the Moment

“Whatever I’m making at the moment, I love the most. So right now, it's that little corn muffin! Every time it comes out of the oven and it smells so good, and it’s just summer – it’s wonderful. It’s all about the pleasure that it brings.”
- Chef Sarah Capone, Pastry Chef at Mast Market

This week, we sat down with Chef Sarah Capone, our very own pastry chef here at Mast Market.

From working her way up in the Bay Area culinary world to leading the pastry kitchen for ten years at Blue Bottle Coffee in Williamsburg, Sarah has made an indelible mark on all things delicious. As seasons begin to shift, be sure to stop by Mast and smell, taste, and savor the final flavors of summer that Sarah so lovingly creates in her bakes. (Read on for the autumnal bakes that are right around the corner!)

Sarah's love for what she does is infectious, and it was a pleasure to discuss her culinary journey, her current inspirations, and her avid passion for opera, amongst other things. Enjoy our conversation below.

Caught corn handed. Chef Sarah working with local, organic corn varieties.

Mast Journal: I’d love to know how you got started baking professionally and what your journey has been since then.

Sarah: Approximately 25 years ago, I went to the Culinary Academy in San Francisco. I actually wanted to be a savory cook – I’ve always been more interested in the savory side of food. Eating it, primarily [laughs]. Getting out of culinary school, the only thing I was offered was pastry stages, so I ended up doing that at a restaurant in San Francisco that doesn't exist anymore, but it was a very high-end, fine dining restaurant. It was amazing – I learned from an incredible pastry chef. From there, I went to various different restaurants and bakeries before James and Caitlin Freeman of Blue Bottle Coffee asked me to be their pastry chef in Brooklyn. I moved here with my husband in 2010, and opened that pastry kitchen. That’s how I got out here, and it’s funny because I already knew about Mast chocolate because Caitlin (Freeman) had a candy store in San Francisco and they carried it. I had already tried it, and as soon as I got to Brooklyn and started working on opening that kitchen, I just walked down the street and introduced myself and said, “I’m gonna use your chocolate!” So I have this connection with Mast, way back when, at Blue Bottle in Williamsburg.

Mast Journal: How did you go from Blue Bottle to Mast?

Sarah: I was at Blue Bottle for almost ten years until the pandemic shut the place down and we all got sent home, like a lot of places did. At that point, I didn’t have a job for awhile, and my husband and I ended up moving up here to Westchester. We lived in Bedford Hills, and I was jobless for about a year. We fell in love with it up here and decided to buy our first house, and one day when I was on my way home from the farmer’s market, I drove by Mast. I looked it up and discovered they were in Mount Kisco now, and I just went in and said hello. I would have literally wrapped chocolate bars or something. And now I guess I’m the pastry chef!

Mast Journal: Before heading into culinary school, when did it come into your consciousness that being a chef was a reality, or possibility, for you?

Sarah: I’ve always primarily loved food. It’s my thing – I’m one of those people who’s always thinking of what I’m going to eat next. Even when I’m in the middle of lunch, I’m thinking about dinner, and breakfast the next day, and so on and so on. I think I get that from my mother’s mother, who just loved food, too. She was a cook, and she actually met her husband, my grandfather, in an Alaskan fish camp. So it’s kind of in the genes, and she’s from the South. She would make biscuits and fried chicken, and growing up I just remember making so many things from scratch with her. And then I moved to France as an au pair when I was twenty-one because I had fallen in love with the language and the culture, and of course the whole world of really incredible pastries and bread opened up to me. So when I did eventually get into pastry, I was excited by it because I had fallen in love with it. I just love all food so much. Now we go to France as regularly as we can, and we have crazy food experiences wherever we go – France, Italy, wherever else.

Mast Journal: That brings me to my next question, which is, I heard you just celebrated your birthday in Italy with friends and family. I’m always curious about what culinary inspirations people take away from traveling. Were there any flavors in particular you feel really inspired about from your trip?

Sarah: Yes. It’s hard though because I was having seasonal fruits in Italy at that particular moment, so it’s a little different over here. I ate a lot of polenta, so it reminded me that I wanted to do something corn-based when I got back. So I did a cornmeal muffin with corn kernels, blueberry, and thyme. Even croissants – Italy has a lot of great French pastries. I would love to do crostatas, too. There’s so much I want to do, it’s just a matter of timing.

A cafe classic, lemon poppyseed cake. Freshly squeezed organic lemons and freshly milled flour made from local, heritage grains.

Mast Journal: Your bakes are inspired by the freshest and most local ingredients around you. When you moved from the Bay Area to New York, what was that process like of sourcing new ingredients from the opposite end of the country?

Sarah: [Audible groan] So hard! I got here knowing that the seasonality was more difficult, but I didn’t really know just how much that was true. Back then, there wasn’t even a Whole Foods. We’re talking just bodegas. It was super, super difficult. I reached out to some other pastry chefs and I’m like, “Where do you get your stuff?” So I was able to procure the most basic stuff like good, high-quality flour, and I’d set up connections at farmer’s markets. But then winter hits, and it’s literally just apples and onions for six months. It was dreadful trying to stay seasonal – it’s way easier now maybe because I think there’s just more and it’s easier to get ahold of stuff that’s organic and locally grown. I didn’t have a car, and I was just having to schlep stuff around on my own.

Mast Journal: What are your favorite things to make right now? Is it always changing for you?

Sarah: It is always changing. On the whole, I always love making ice cream. It’s kind of whatever I’m making at the moment, I love the most. So right now, that little corn muffin! Every time it comes out of the oven and it smells so good, and it’s just summer – it’s wonderful. It’s all about the pleasure that it brings. And croissants – I’m not doing them right now, but I did them at Blue Bottle for a year. It was probably the best baking I’ve ever done in my life. I’d always wanted to do it, and it was so hard and so challenging, and I was somehow the one doing it. It’s so much work and if it doesn’t come out, it’s just all that product and work down the drain. But once I nailed it – oh my goodness. It was awesome. I’m also getting really excited for this pumpkin olive oil tea cake. I was so bored of it by the end of last season, but now it’s back and I’m like, oh it’s so wonderful and yummy! This apple coffee cake I do, too.

Mast Journal: Am I correct that you’re the one responsible for making the Mast chocolate chip cookies?

Sarah: For sure. The recipe came well before me at Mast, but I feel like I’ve elevated the result by tweaking the baking times and leavening a bit!

Mast Journal: Well, it’s quite possibly the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve had. So thank you for that.

Sarah: Thank you! I put so much effort into every bake. I really try to perfect each one. I love baking cookies.

A summer corn muffin with blueberries. Made with ground corn from Hudson Valley mill, Wild Hive, and fresh sweet corn from local farms.

Mast Journal: Shifting gears, I hear you’re quite passionate about opera. When did that love take root for you?

Sarah: I grew up with classical music. I think when I was about six, a friend of mine had a violin. I’d always try to play it, so my parents finally got me a violin and I had private lessons and all that. It lasted until I was about twenty-one, so a long time! A whole growing up of practicing and orchestra, and the whole family soon got into classical music. So we went to a lot of concerts growing up. My first opera was Aida outside in Rome in the middle of summer, and it was probably over one hundred degrees. I was fourteen and it was incredible. It was four, five hours long. Then I had a good friend reintroduce me into opera later on, and he got me into Wagner. Several months later I moved to New York with my husband, and there was the Metropolitan Opera, which is considered to be, by most, the best opera company in the world. I didn’t make a lot of money, but I got these nose-bleed subscription seats for twelve operas or so a year. I just couldn’t treat myself better. So I’ve been to well over one hundred operas at the Met.

Mast Journal: Back to baking, what would you say is the most challenging part of what you do?

Sarah: At this very moment, it’s putting out fires when you’ve got a production list that’s twenty items deep. Literally, when I got on the phone with you, I’m like, “Do I have the timer on?” Your brain has to be in so many places at once for an extended part of the day. Also, wanting to do so much. There are so many things I want to make. I cannot let myself go and start a bunch of different stuff if I have these core things I need to make sure are on point and correct. I really have to rein it in.

Mast Journal: What’s your favorite part about what you do?

Sarah: Oh my gosh, I have so many. Some of my favorite parts are eating what I’ve made, and being so pleased that I made it. I also love teaching. My assistant, Ilsa, she is so fantastic and has this attention and interest that not everybody has. She’s a sponge that really wants to learn and there’s no ego there. And I love putting in a full day’s work and working myself really hard, and seeing an end result. Otherwise, I’d just be sitting on my butt playing chess all day.

Homemade organic ice cream. Chef Sarah makes ice cream from scratch in small batches. Photograph by Kate Jordan.

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