If you’ve ever had the privilege of eating Pajo Bruich’s food, you will remember it well. The cooking was inventive, the repertoire of techniques leaned toward modernist and mind-blowing, and the plating was so artful and measured you mind have wondered, “Is this a restaurant or a gallery?”
Bruich was executive chef at LoungeON20 in midtown in 2011 and Enotria in north Sacramento in 2012. He moved on to the Bay Area a few years back, first at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak in San Francisco, then as chief operating officer at Tacolicious. He’s currently readying to launch his next project, which he says he will be announcing in the coming weeks.
What happens when you give a hard-working chef a little bit of down time with his family around the holidays? How about an epic cookie-baking session?
I first spotted the cookies on his social media and thought, “Hey, good-looking batch!” Then he posted another batch. And another. There were all kinds of colors, all kinds of shapes and sizes. And so very, very many.
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I finally had to pick up the phone and ask, “Are you celebrating Christmas? Or trying for some kind of dad/daughters world record?”
Turns out, it might be a little of both. Let’s start with the numbers. Bruich and daughters Paris, 8, and 5-year-old Portia baked 600 cookies – sifting, spooning, stirring, stooping from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. They used 6 pounds of butter, 15 pounds of flour and 10 pounds of sugar.
We caught up with a proud but weary Bruich, who for years lived in Lincoln but now resides in San Ramon, to ask about all that baking. He says he is simply carrying on a childhood Christmas tradition he never forgot.
“I guess it started as far back as I can remember with my grandma. We would bake cookies and do all the frosting. I would be totally ecstatic to do all that,” Bruich said. “I enjoy doing it to this day, but I really want to share it with my kids.”
Ever the organized chef, Bruich said Christmas cookies are actually a three-day process. On Day 1, he and the girls shopped for ingredients. It was about this time that the chef reminded his two apprentices about mise en place — everything in its place. An organized kitchen is an efficient kitchen.
Day 2, they weighed everything according to the recipes, mixed the various cookie doughs and tucked them into the fridge. Yes, most cookie dough improves with a 24 hour rest. On Day 3, they baked. And baked and baked.
His grandmother, Jean Stit, lives in Palm Dessert, and wasn’t in on the action this time. But the legacy she created is never far away.
“It’s such a fond memory that I have. I still use her recipes that I cooked with her as a child,” Bruich said. “It’s something that’s really special to my family.”
So is giving away most of this giant stash of cookies. Daughter Portia has Pitt Hopkins syndrome, a rare genetic condition that affects learning and motor skills. Many of the cookies are gifts for teachers and Portia’s therapists. Many more go to Angie Bruich’s super-sized family — she is the youngest of 11 brothers and sisters.
Snacking? Yes, there was plenty. Dad can get serious when he’s working as a pro, but this time he says he encouraged his daughters to make a mess and eat as many cookies as they pleased. He estimates they devoured two dozen baked treats throughout the course of the day.
Bruich said that if he had his way, the baking tally would have been well over 600.
“My wife had to stop me because I wanted to throw two additional cookies into the mix,” he said with a laugh. “We just got going and it was a lot of fun. I told my daughters that we’re going to go big and we’re going to be ambitious with how many we do.”
If you think that the next few days leading up to Christmas are a chance to rest and recuperate, you’d be wrong.
“We do tamales the same way — we’re going to be doing 600 tamales,” added the chef.