We love having friends over, but we don’t do it often enough. Our condo is pretty tiny cozy, and I’ve learned that it’s much easier to host a cocktail party or brunch versus a sit-down dinner. After all, we don’t even have a dining room table.When I learned about Chef David Sapp and his mad entertaining skills, I knew I had to meet the guy. Sapp curates the breakfast room at The Ace Hotel in Portland, and he was kind enough to give me a tour of his set-up.
It only took a few minutes of watching Sapp setting up the breakfast room (at about 6am!) to see that he’s doing some very cool things. Sapp walked me through a typical morning at The Ace, and also gave me some pointers on hosting brunch. Take a look at his beautiful breakfast spread here, and then keep reading for pointers on how to be a brunch host/ess extraordinaire in your own home.
Tell us about your background/training in the food industry.
I grew up cooking since I was about six with my grandfather in Georgia. He was the quintessential southern cook so I learned to make killer biscuits, fry okra, make cornbread, and all the other classic staples as a young kid. I continued cooking for the family growing up, really almost taking over the cooking from my mother in high school. Cooking in college was really a means to impress the opposite sex, but I only started doing it professionally since about 2006 at a little cafe where I grew up in North Carolina. I worked in the coffee world for a while in conjunction with food but decided to steer more towards food by going to culinary school here in Portland. I moved out in 2009 and attended Western Culinary in one of their last programs through as Western Culinary before they turned into Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. I interned at clarklewis after culinary school and was working at Sur La Table on the side at the same time. When my internship was up I started working as a Chef Instructor for Sur La Table teaching 3-4 cooking classes a week and still continue to do that once or twice a week.
How long have you been at The Ace, and what exactly is your role?
I started at The Ace last November so I’m creeping up on a year. I started as just part-time, manning the room on Sunday and Mondays, but when Jason (the other guy) left to open his foodcart (shameless plug for the Sideshow Eatery on SW 9th Washington), I stepped in to assume the official title of “Breakfast Guy”. I like to look at the job as “Curator of the Breakfast Room”, while my job does entail cooking like pickling, making preserves and jams, and a little baking extravaganza here and there; my main roll is making sure the room showcases the best that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. Whether it’s amazing cheeses from Willamette Valley Cheese or charcuterie from Olympic Provisions or the best in-season Hood Strawberry, I see it as my job to provide our guests with the best tastes Portland has to offer in that moment.
What are some of your “best tastes”?
Olympic and Little T make some seriously great products that are some of the best Portland has to offer. Among the list I would add Mt. Townsend Creamery from Ft. Townsend, WA; their Cirrus Camembert is about the best thing on the planet when it is super ripe and runny. Willamette Valley Cheese also makes some phenomenal products, currently I’m obsessed with their Boerenkaas which is a raw milk gouda and their Perrydale which is an aged cow and sheep cheese. Salmon Creek Farms is where we get our honey from the markets, they are a little gypsy family that sells honey, tomatoes, and feathers at the market which in itself is amazing but their honey is truly spectacular. When berries are in season I really love Stephens Farm from Grand Island, Mr. Stephens is a super nice old man whose strawberries are one of my favorite summer treats. Other than that I just love discovering new things at the markets just popping around tasting what’s available.
When you’re not cooking, where do you like to eat out?
The problem with Portland is there is always somewhere new to try… when I first moved here I got the Willamette Week Top 100 and that was my hit list for the year. I made it to about 50 that first year but I’ve been behind ever since. Some of my most recent favorite meals have been Aviary (Jasper, Kat, and Sara are amazing people), St. Jack, Simpatica for brunch, clarklewis is always a favorite, Park Kitchen & The Bent Brick, really the list just goes on and on. I’ve been also slightly obsessed with Korean food so JCD Korean and Du Kuh Bee in Beaverton have been frequent dinner stops. As far as lunches I’m either hitting the foodcarts or I’ll jump across to eat at Double Dragon for an amazing duck bahn mi or Robo Taco for my favorite tacos al pastor in Portland.
How do you spend your free time? Any other interests or talents?
Well up until a few weeks ago my life has been consumed with wedding and honeymoon details but now it’s nice to have some free time back to myself (I guess I should say that after I write all our thank you cards). My wife and I are movie junkies so we’re usually hitting something at the cheap theaters or seeing what is good on Redbox. I can occasionally be found at Ground Kontrol on their freeplay nights rocking some oldschool pinball and I’ve also been known to wander aimlessly with my camera just for the fun of it. But mostly I just love to come home and cook. Most people ask “do you cook at home or are you tired of it” but I genuinely enjoy cooking at home even after doing so all day so with the weather getting colder I’m usually braising something or making some kind of soup every other day because it’s probably the most satisfying thing in the world to let something simmer away all day to reveal magic at the dinner table later that night.
You clearly know what you’re doing when it comes to hosting brunch. What advice can you share with those of us who’d like to replicate your beautiful breakfast spread?
Brunch is probably the best thing in the world… why… because you get to sleep in (or sober up) but you don’t have to miss breakfast. That should hold true for you as the host/hostess as well. A little forethought and proper planning makes all the different. What we provide at The Ace is what I like to call “Guided Variety” – there are tons of choices to please a crowd but it’s not like you’re making special items for each individual’s picky wants. Go to the market, get three cheeses, (one soft, one hard, one funky), pick up a salami for Olympic Provisions or Chop (my personal favorites are fennel based so Finnochiona from OP or Chop’s Fennel salami), grab a great baguette from Pearl Bakery or Little T or Ken Artisan Bakery. That right there will make a lot of people happy. But then throw in the sweet side, find some great granola and pick up a big tub of Nancy’s yogurt, find a little tart stand and get a couple macaroons or madelines; then bake one thing. This is how you get all the credit and adoration we really want for hosting brunch. Make a bread pudding or banana bread or something that is easy to throw together, but bakes up filling the house with wonderful smells. This shows you’re not completely incompetent in the kitchen (even if you really are). If you really want to go for broke, make some quick pickles the week before and hard boil some farm eggs (get the multicolored ones from the market they are more fun) and set out some in-season fruit. Then just make sure the coffee is hot and the bloody marys are cold and it’s the best day ever. The one thing I tell people when they ask what they should do when they entertain is to cook what you like. If you like it, your guests are bound to like it and you’re comfortable making it. Do not, and I stress, DO NOT use your guests as guinea pigs, don’t make something you’ve never made before because you don’t even know if you’re going to like it, or if it will come out right, etc. Stick to your classics and let someone else provide the delicious variety, they will let you taste pretty much anything at the market so make sure you taste and get what’s good and it’s fool proof.
Aloha, and welcome to Margaritas In The Rain! My name is Marisa. I live in Hawaii, where I cook approachable food. With an island twist. And yes, I do love drinking margaritas on rainy days. Care to join me?