Welcome to "Mise en Place" – a series dedicated to telling Chef stories. Mise en place is French for "putting in place", and it is what chefs do every day in the kitchen... but how did they get there? What are the experiences, tastes, and moments that put a chef in their culinary place? That's what we'll uncover together through "Mise en Place".
Meet Chef Aisha Bassett
Aisha Bassett is the owner and ice cream maker of Offbeat Creemee in Winooski, Vermont. Born and raised in the Catskills of New York, she developed a love for the outdoors and local food. This passion took her to the State University of New York at Cobleskill, where the culinary arts meets agriculture.
After college, Aisha worked in various bakeries in the capital region of New York before settling in Vermont in 2017 with her husband and dog. When Aisha is not in the ice cream shop, you can find her ankle deep in the sand on a beach of Lake Champlain or on the road finding the best food that Vermont has to offer.
What originally brought you into the kitchen? How did you start learning to cook/bake?
I grew up in a single mother household. It was just my mom and I, and she worked two jobs. Working two jobs doesn’t leave you with a lot of time or energy to cook after a 10+ hour day. When my mom did make a meal that was more time or energy consuming or difficult, they were always delicious, and I deeply appreciated it and always looked forward to dinner together.
In high school, I attended a culinary program and learned basic knife skills and cooking techniques. I started making dinner at home for my mom and I and lunches for myself for school. I wanted to make sure we both looked forward to dinner together.
What is your favorite cooking memory from growing up?
Christmas cookie weekend was, and still is, a tradition my mom and her best friend celebrate. Baking dozens upon dozens of cookies, eating good homemade food, exchanging thoughtful gifts, and laughing all weekend. That time with the two of them and her son will always be a memories close to my heart.
The cooking world is so demanding. As a pastry chef, what makes you feel supported in big or small ways? What are the things you enjoy about the cooking community?
My fellow BIPOC and women entrepreneurs in the food industry have been the most supportive and welcoming community. From simple check ins to our heart to hearts about our challenges, we all understand each other with just a glance or head nod. We are all in this together, collaboratively not competitively.
What is one of your all-time favorite dining experiences?
One of my most memorable dining experiences was on a college trip to Paris. We spent the afternoon dining and being lectured about French cheese, wine, bread, and culture by Stephanie Curtis of Bon Appetite Magazine – in her own home!
It was my first trip on a plane and out of the country. Seeing the Eiffel Tower while being lectured on French cuisine and culture by Stephanie Curtis was a surreal experience that brings me endless joy.
What’s your favorite food city in the world and why?
Barcelona, Spain. The rich food culture is steeped in time and old-world tradition and is celebrated with new cuisines and young ideas. There is an abundance of seafood, and the diversity of food is influenced from all over Spain and Europe. I had the best seafood at Restaurant 7 Portes and a great lunch at Jamon Jamon.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?
While my husband and I are not vegan/plant based, we do live dairy free. We make ice cream for the people, and when we recognized that people and families with certain allergies and lifestyle choices did not have an ice cream shop, we ditched the dairy and started experimenting with alternative milks in our home ice cream machine. Our ice cream is a silky blend of coconut and oat milk, both our soft serve and hard ice creams. Our menu features soft and hard ice creams, milkshakes, floats, and sundaes. Most of our toppings are made in house and are also plant based/vegan.
What inspires you when it comes to creating ice cream flavors?
What inspires flavors at Offbeat is part nostalgia, but with a local twist. We use local mint in our mint ice cream, berries from a berry farm for strawberry ice cream, and collaborate with local companies for cookie dough to make cookie dough ice cream. We also love to play up flavors or foods we love like blueberry pancakes, apple ginger crisp, and lemon meringue pie. There are times, especially in the summer with Vermont's amazing bounty, we get inspired to get a little funky and churn flavors like roasted beet ice cream with a strawberry rose compote, fresh basil ice cream with blueberry thyme compote swirl, and most recently, salted maple cold brew.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring pastry chef? (Home or professional)
Keep learning and challenge yourself, you’re more impressive than you think.
In your words, what makes an excellent knife?
A forged knife that stays sharp, well balanced, and comfortable to hold. A knife that you can hold and work with all day and not be tired or sore.
What's your favorite type of knife to use?
The WÜSTHOF Classic 8-inch Chef's Knife is always my go to in the ice cream shop when we are prepping ingredients for our ice cream. From slicing through pumpkins and beets to chopping herbs or chocolate, it is so versatile.