The Biscuit Elf
A story by and about Van Dao
Once upon a time, there was a Biscuit Elf that grew up on a farm in the Deep South. Here, the lessons of food and farming began. Because the farm life was hard physically and financially, the Biscuit Elf’s parents encouraged him to pursue a medical career instead of a culinary one. Sure enough, once entering college, he was on a one track pursuit of medicine.
However, the culinary seed planted in him early in his life, yearned to sprout and surface.
Each time it tried to surface, it would be buried deeper as his pursuit of medicine became more real…until the moment came to apply for early acceptance. Still naïve and not having experienced life, his interview for early acceptance would ultimately falter and wither. What would he do in lieu of a career in medicine? What other career would satisfy his parents and his own desires?
Having always loved the myriad of animals that existed on earth, the Biscuit Elf turned his pursuit to veterinary medicine. This time around, he got accepted into one of the top 10 veterinary schools in the USA in one try! Surely, he would sail straight through veterinary college and open a clinic after graduation.
Fully knowing that it would not be an easy course, he thought he was mentally and emotionally be prepared of what’s ahead. Again, his naivety got the best of him. His 3rd year in veterinary school would prove to be too difficult. He would go to the Dean and make a formal resignation. What lies ahead? The Biscuit Elf did not know at that moment. All he knew was that he was burnt out and had nothing left to give. He felt a huge relief though, knowing the academic pressure had been concurrently released.
Alas, it would be not be quite over yet.
The Dean, along with faculty, classmates and above all else, his family, persuaded him to return and finish his final year in veterinary curriculum. The Biscuit Elf graduated with honors and went on to pursue a Masters in poultry medicine. The course of this study would inform and change the way he viewed food production in the US. It certainly emphasized the inverse relationship between quality and quantity and the need to find a point of reconciliation.
How could he work alongside an industry of that massive scale when it contradicts his values? By utilizing that knowledge and doing what he can as an individual to contribute to change.
After 5 years practicing as a food animal veterinarian for the USDA, the Biscuit Elf reached another point of feeling burnt out. If the effects of a biological clock would be felt, it would be now, when he’s turning 30. In addition, this was another turning point in his life: coming out as he met his first love. Living a closeted life taught him many lessons, but one of the greatest was that we all only have one life to live.
Life is too precious to be wasted living in a pseudo-presence. And life is too precious to pursue a career where one’s heart does not beat.
Finally, that culinary seed that had yearned to sprout had the vigor to erupt from the depths. It would surface as a cuisine student in Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa, Canada, where the Biscuit Elf would live in a legally declared domestic partnership. Life was good. Life was what he finally imagined. This seedling would thrive in this career.
Already deep in debt from his veterinary education but having saved enough from his veterinary career, he would finance his own education. He felt like this was the best investment he had ever made. The options were endless. What would he specialize in? Although formally trained in cuisine, as a child, he loved the magic of baking from his sister.
When his permitted time was up in Canada, both the Biscuit Elf and his partner, who grew up on the East coast, felt like it was time to make the “big” move to the West. Would it be Seattle, where his partner’s family had moved to, or would it be to San Francisco, where the culture and climate were more suited to the Biscuit Elf? This question would be settled by who would get a job first and where. Paradoxically, his partner would find a job first, at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco.
The first real life culinary experience the Biscuit Elf would attain was in the Nordstrom Café kitchen. It was all new, exciting and a little scary learning the ways of the kitchen. From this first kitchen, the Biscuit Elf would travel through other kitchens, working different stations and different operations.
After working the kitchen lines’ various station, he wanted a change of pace. How about cooking off the line as a production cook? After all, he had recently discovered Delessio Market and Bakery. It seemed to have everything he liked: nice ambiance, a staff that looked like they were always having fun, bountiful platters and bowls of food, and finally, a formidable pastry department.
Making multiple edible scouting trips to Delessio rewardingly yielded what the Biscuit Elf was searching for: an opening for a production cook! The executive chef at that time was Brenda Buenviaje. At his interview, Brenda told him that she was hesitant to hire him because his experience pointed to a more challenging background than the position she had to offer.
Armed with this virtue that holds particularly true in the culinary industry, the Biscuit Elf was persistent and asked Brenda to just try him out. She did, and this unlikely relationship would change everything. It would be the unknowing start of who we know today as the Biscuit Bender. Brenda would leave Delessio 9 months after the Biscuit Elf started, to open up her own restaurant.
Just over a day before her Grand opening, Brenda called the Biscuit Elf up to ask if he was available to help with her party. Coincidentally, the Biscuit Elf had just resigned from Delessio. Not knowing this, Brenda mentioned in her invitation that she was looking for a line cook. The Biscuit Elf, now free for employment, told her news of his departure from Delessio. Pleasantly shocked, Brenda asked if he was interested, at least to help her out the first few months. He accepted her offer, which would start the journey in making biscuits and beignets for Brenda for 4 ½ yrs. What supposedly was to be for a few months turned into years.
Over four years of making biscuits allows one to fine tune such a simple dough that commonly falls short of its many requisite flaky, buttery layers. It’s not just about tasting soulful history, but it also very much edible artistry. Those attributes, along with market-tested flavors incorporated into its buttermilk-based dough are what defines and distinguishes the Biscuit Bender as we know it today.
Now the next chapter…