Though pastry queen Tiffany MacIsaac and her husband, chef Kyle Bailey of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, are both known for making their marks on the D.C. food scene, MacIsaac is actually an island girl. Born and raised on Maui in Hawaii, she moved to New York City at the tender age of 18 and went on to hone her pastry skills at some of the Big Apple’s best restaurants, including Michelin-starred Cru and Allen and Delancey.
Now at Buttercream Bakeshop, which she owns with business partner Alexandra Mudry-Till, MacIsaac takes her talents to sweet new heights. Where Magazine recently caught up with the three-time James Beard Award semi-finalist to find out her go-to spots for dinner, what she actually likes to bake, and the one thing she adores about living in the nation’s capital.
You were head of pastry for Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s 14 properties. How did you come up with fresh new ideas for Buttercream?
Taking a year and a half to open really helped to clear my head and gave me needed time to test new recipes, bake constantly, develop new design ideas and think about how I wanted the bakery to feel. Reading, traveling and eating around town certainly gave me lots of inspiration, too!
What do you like to bake when you’re not working?
I pretty much stick to icebox pies. I'm not a fan of home ovens compared to what we use at Buttercream. Icebox pies offer the best of baking without actually baking. When we have family visiting, I make an exception and whip up scones and biscuits daily.
You’re all about the dessert, but where do you like to go for dinner?
I love The Source (dumplings at the bar and Peking duck, to be specific) and Mandu (kimchee fried rice is my favorite comfort food). I'm also obsessed with the pizza at All-Purpose, which is right next door to Buttercream. We actually make all of their pizza dough, so it's fun to experience our handiwork in a more savory application. The pepperoni pizza with spicy honey, mushroom and fontina is what dreams are made of.
Something visitors may not know about D.C.’s food scene?
Most of the chefs here are really great friends. No one looks at each other as competition. We all understand that to make D.C. an amazing food city, we need to work together. The sense of camaraderie was one of the first things my husband and I noticed after we moved here, and we just fell in love with the city. It's all about collaboration, community and helping each other achieve success.
What do you love most about D.C.?
When we were weighing the pros of moving here from New York City, one of the items at the top of my list was a longer soft shell crab season. It remains one of my favorite things about the area. And, of course, the cherry blossoms! They really are incredible. No matter how many years you've seen them bloom, it's always such a sight.
What do you like to do when the weather warms up?
The summertime can often be hot. Very hot. So I tend to seek out places that will keep you cool. In addition to the many world-class museums our city has to offer, I like to visit the waterfront by Nationals Park. There's this cool breeze that comes off the water, and the area is home to one of my favorite ice cream shops, Ice Cream Jubilee. I love to get a scoop to enjoy sitting by the water.
Best photo op in or of the city?
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden always has photo op-worthy exhibits. People also love the neon “Awesome” sign at Rose's Luxury. Plus you can have a great meal there before you get your shot!
If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
It would have to be home, on Maui, with my family. I went home in January for the first time in eight years and would love to get back again soon. There's nothing like the smell of fresh rain as the sun comes up in Haiku. And I can still get my sugar fix from this amazing little bakery that opened on Maui near my parents' house.
What’s your best tip for visitors?
Rent a bike, and explore some of D.C.'s historic neighborhoods. It’s a great way to get a feel for the culture and fabric of the city.