Authors: nytimes Diners Journal
Back of House, an occasional column, celebrates the unsung characters who animate the restaurant universe.
It was way past midnight in the empty kitchen, and Diana Bush, the overnight baker at the NoMad restaurant in Manhattan, was working the eight-foot-long, black-granite-topped pastry table, 20 steps from the dining room. Most of the 70 other kitchen workers had long since departed. As she weighed the dough (each loaf: 130 grams), her long, strong fingers were forming brioches to be served with beef tartare. Her pace was methodical, irresistibly efficient. She worked from 8 p.m. to dawn: everything had to be baked by 5 a.m. (Mark Welker, the pastry chef, presides over the day with his staff.)
A few years ago, when Ms. Bush, 27, worked as an architect, she took a pastry class at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. To her surprise, she found herself going on to earn a pastry-and-baking course certificate. As a cooking student, Ms. Bush had baking stints at Craft, Gotham Bar and Grill, Jean-Georges and Union Square Cafe, then landed an externship program at Eleven Madison Park, working in the kitchen of the executive chef, Daniel Humm. After he opened the NoMad with his business partner, Will Guidara, she bade architecture farewell and began baking there.
“It takes a certain type of person to do this job, to work these hours, to find rhythm in the kitchen even when no one else is around,” Mr. Humm said. “Diana is a craftsman,” he added, “one of the unsung, and oftentimes unseen, heroes of the restaurant.”
Baking vs. Architecture
“Baking is a lot like architecture in a sense; they are both part creative and part scientific. Baking is a chemistry experiment – there is the precision of weights and temperatures and ingredients chosen with organizational skill – but there is always the creative side. It’s a craft.”
Queen of the Dark
“I like working at night. I’m totally used to it. I can focus and really get things done. You get used to working when everyone else is asleep and sleeping when everyone else is up. But because I have Saturday and Sunday nights off, I can have a social life.”
Burger Buns to Soda Bread
“It’s not like NoMad is a bakery where you do 200 of the same loaves. I do a little of everything, and I really like that. NoMad is part of a hotel, offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and room service, so I get to do a great variety of baking: 18 kinds of breads, including burger buns, brioche, Danish, truffle braids, pane Pugliese, fig-hazelnut multigrain, pretzels, English muffins, focaccia, soda bread, baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat.”
Most Irritating on the To-Do List
“Pretzels can be finicky. We immerse them for a few seconds in hot lye, which gives their crust color, and shine. I wear latex gloves for protection.”
The Baker’s Workout
“I’m 5-foot-6, and it helps to be tall, reaching into those cabinets. I stay thin because I’m always moving. Your body just adapts to the work pretty quickly.”
This interview has been condensed and edited.