Chatting with the baker behind Black Seed Bagels, Dianna Daoheung
While owners Noah Bernamoff (Mile End) and Matt Kliegman (The Smile) are the familiar names behind bagel sensation Black Seed, it’s head baker Dianna Daoheung who is really killing it in Nolita. After toiling in advertising, she switched gears and went to culinary school, landing at the then newly opened Mile End, where she worked with Bernamoff on the line. Daoheung found her way to pastry and developed Mile End’s bread program, where she later honed the recipe for the New York/Montreal bagel mashup sold at Black Seed, which opened in late April. With lines around the block for a new kind of bagel in a city that’s legendary for them, the curiosity is peaking and cronut comparisons are trickling in. Read on for more on the bagel frenzy.
First things first: What led you breadmaking and what kinds were you making at Mile End?
Cakes are fun and everything, but there’s just that science behind bread that I really enjoy. It’s very fickle. [At Mile End], we made rye bread, onion rolls, Kaiser rolls … at the end, we were making Montreal bagels. I pretty much adapted that original recipe into what it is now. The original recipe had egg; it was a little bit denser and more Montreal style. This one is the perfect crossbreed between a New York and a Montreal style bagel. There’s no egg in this bagel, for instance, so it’s not as dense as a Montreal style bagel, but it has that sweetness and crunchiness on the outside.
Sliced down the middle: What part of this bagel is Montreal and which is New York?
The Montreal style is the wood fire, the sweetness and the size. The New York part is that it’s not as dense. If you eat it untoasted, it still has softness in the middle, and the outer coating has this nice, beautiful crust. The sweetness, wood oven and size is from Montreal, and the softness is New York.
Did you do a lot of research and bagel tasting in developing the recipe?
I went to Beauty’s (Montreal-style bagels in Oakland) to see their style and tips and techniques that Blake [the owner] shared. A lot of people are really secretive, but that’s one thing about the new generation of bagel makers — we’re not secretive. At the end it’s the same process, and the difference is what your ratios are.
New Yorkers waiting hours on line for a bagel is kind of crazy. Are you surprised at the popularity of Black Seed?
I’m absolutely blown away. Me and Rob [the other baker] worked on this recipe for months and months. … You never know when you open if there will even be two people waiting. The fact that there’s an hour-and-a-half line on the weekend is the baker’s dream. I totally respect the cronut, but I wish people wouldn’t compare bagels and cronuts.
But this is a mashup — like the cronut. It’s not such a crazy comparison.
I absolutely appreciate that we’re compared to something that has just as much public and mass appeal … but it’s just big shoes to fill. The cronut! I just appreciate all the love we’re getting … it makes me want to cry. I actually did cry one time. It makes it worth being here at 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Seeing these people eating something that we’ve worked months and months on, and loving it.
Have you gotten any criticism?
Not yet, actually. I’m really surprised. I’m waiting for the haters to hate!