Have Your Cake…
Tiffany MacIsaac is the Chef/Owner of DC’s hottest new bakery: Buttercream Bakeshop. The whimsical shop is something every neighborhood dreams of, with grab and go breakfast creations, hot coffee, sweet confections, hand painted cakes, and even unicorn poop! I make a point to stop in every time I’m in Shaw, just because walking in makes me feel happy. I think part of the reason I feel so happy walking into Buttercream, is because I know how much love and attention to detail goes into every product. Tiffany is ALWAYS there, seeing through to projects from start to finish. I’ve worked directly with her for all of my special request items, and she literally makes dreams come true.
As stated from her website, “born and raised on Maui, Hawaii Tiffany moved to New York City at the age of 18. Her love affair with food began almost immediately. She attended the culinary arts program at the Institute of Culinary Education and went on to work as a pastry assistant at Union Square Café and Ilo Restaurant in the Bryant Park Hotel. She was later awarded the title of pastry chef at Michelin star restaurants CRU followed by another Michelin starred property, Allen and Delancey.
In 2009, Tiffany and her husband, Chef Kyle Bailey, moved to DC to open Birch & Barley, which not only received 3 stars from The Washington Post but also gave her the platform to be awarded the honor of Best Pastry Chef by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington in 2010. During her 5 years with the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, she ran the pastry program for 14 properties including Buzz Bakery and GBD Fried Chicken and Doughnuts. Tiffany was also selected as a James Beard Award semi-finalist 3 years in a row and was featured in several publications such as Food & Wine, The Local Palate, and Art Culinaire.”
You can find Tiffany’s creations all over DC, whether it’s at a first-class first birthday party featuring one of her famous smash cakes; or at restaurants in the area featuring her pastry masterpieces; or in the shop, of course! I highly recommend the breakfast bombs, cinnascone, oreo gems, unicorn blondie, seasonal macarons and the custom cakes! Check out some of the cakes I’ve had the pleasure of having thanks to Tiffany and her team below!
I had the chance to hang out, and fan-girl hard, with Tiffany at the bakery to watch her make one of her famous smash cakes. I asked her the important questions (see interview below), and compiled a video of the thing she likes most to make for kids: Smash Cakes, of course! Here’s what I found out….
How/when did you get into cooking?
TM: I grew up in Hawaii and always loved cooking and baking for fun, but it wasn’t until I moved to New York City when I turned 18 that I started to think about pursuing it professionally. NYC is full of amazing, diverse food and it definitely kick-started my interest. Within a few years I found myself training in a kitchen instead of a traditional classroom.
What kind of diner/customer do you absolutely loathe?
TM: We are always grateful for business, so there’s nothing we loathe. In this line of work where you’re creating something very personal for some of life’s most important events, there can be occasional hiccups when it comes to managing expectations. When we a customer shows us a photo of a $5,000 cake they saw on Pinterest, but have a $300 total budget, we have to carefully suggest alternatives that incorporate elements of what they like but are within reach. 99% of the time it’s fine, but when emotions are involved, it can be a little tricky. It’s not their fault – how could they possibly know how much time, labor and material is involved in certain cakes. We just want to make sure everyone is happy with the end result and enjoys the process.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced while on your career path to becoming a chef?
TM: I can’t really think of any big ones. Burning out is probably the biggest one for chefs. Before I opened Buttercream I had worked for years without really coming up for air. Chefs are brutal to themselves in that way and it can be hard to strike work-life balance in this profession. One of the reasons I took the leap to open my own business was to create an environment where I was genuinely happy to be cooking again – and one where my employees would feel that passion as well. Luckily it worked and I’ve never been happier!
What is a dish that you make regularly for yourself or your family at home?
TM: To be honest, I don’t cook a ton at home, but when I’m feeling homesick I’ll make white rice and kalua pig. Growing up in Hawaii there really isn’t anything in DC that reminds me of home like kalua pig. My husband has even done a proper imu pit at our house and cooked a small pig in the ground for me. I’m lucky, he’s a chef too.
Ed. Note: BEST HUSBAND EVER! Also, keep an eye out for Chef Kyle Bailey’s new restaurant The Salt Line – opening soon!
Tell me one “must order” item from your bakery
TM: That’s a really hard one to answer. For breakfast I’d go with a Cinnascone. It’s a Buttercream original and something we are really proud of and personally love. For dessert I’d go with the Happy Camper. It sounds basic (graham, chocolate and marshmallow), but the marshmallow is this amazing, billowy, honey-vanilla marshmallow fluff. The texture is super special.
Who is your dream dinner party guest?
TM: If I’m being serious, I’d say my husband because we are on opposite schedules and I’d always want to catch up over dinner. In a fantasy world I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Kardashians, because they are completely insane and it would be horrifying and hilarious.
What’s your favorite restaurant to dine at in DC? (besides your own)
TM: I go back and forth on this all the time but if I’m deciding based on number of visits it would be a toss up between The Source and Mandu. If I’ve had a great day or horrible one I want to celebrate or eat my feelings over Peking duck or kimchee fired rice. My business partner, Alex, and I tend to take our staff to both those places as a treat. She’s obsessed too.
Have you been “star struck” by another chef? If so, who?
TM: When I was 26 or so, Sara Moulton came into Allen & Delancey. When I was in culinary school I was obsessed with her show. I actually went to the table and thanked her for all the information she shared. As expected, she was a class act.
Give me one piece of advice for up and coming chefs.
TM: Put your head down, do your work. It doesn’t matter your age, you’ve gotta put in the time to get the knowledge you need to be successful later. Don’t worry about money or title until you are ready to go big. Worry about who you work for and what they can teach you. Oh, and stay at least 18 months and give AT LEAST a month’s notice. That will always help you later because your chef will love you for it.
What is your go-to snack when you’re HANGRY?
TM: Anything from Smoked & Stacked.
Ed. Note: Get the “Messy,” and the pastrami mac & cheese and your life will be changed forever, for the better.
Fun fact about yourself?
TM: I write better in buttercream than with a pen. That’s a fact that any of my teammates will confirm.
To see all of the amazing things Tiffany and her team create, check out their Instagram page!
And eat it too…
Sweet Annabelle joined me at Buttercream to celebrate her belated birthday with one of Tiffany’s smash cakes! She got to enjoy a Funfetti cake with vanilla buttercream, edible glitter and pink buttercream roses! Check out how it’s made from start to finish by Chef Tiffany, herself:
Thank you so much for taking the time to tell me all about yourself and the amazing Buttercream Bakeshop, Tiffany!