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Combine siblings and sweets, then mix well. It seems to be a winsome recipe for business success.
Two sister-brother partnerships have opened extraordinary pastry shops here within the past year, producing desserts that delight the palate as much as they do the eye:
-- Britt Marit Harkestad, 24, and Rune Harkestad, 27, operate Patisserie Alinea, a European-style shop in Loehmann's Plaza at Factoria.
-- Rebecca Naccarato, 36, and Tim Towner, 28, are enhancing the Phinney Ridge neighborhood with Dessert Works, their cozy shop of showpiece sweets.
The cakes, pastries, cookies and other treats sold at the separate businesses are distinctive, but the owners have much in common. And these similarities started at childhood.
The Harkestads developed their passion for desserts in Norway, where their mother was an accomplished home baker. Britt helped, and Rune joined in occasionally, especially during the making of traditional Christmas cookies, when he could pop bites of raw dough into his mouth.
Naccarato and Towner were raised on a wheat ranch in Walla Walla where "what's for dessert?" was one of the major questions of the day. Their mother was famous for her fresh fruit pies, and early on Naccarato developed expertise in cake baking. Towner says his breakfasts seldom seemed complete unless he rounded them off with a cookie.
The Harkestads opened their cheerful shop in November, near a QFC. Why Bellevue? "Why not?," says Rune. Some of their business advisers said Ballard would be the natural place to sell their Norwegian, Danish, French and Swiss specialties. Rune decided customers there are loyal to their long-established Scandinavian bakeries, but the Eastside had nothing comparable.
They're equally pleased they rejected a suggestion that they attend community college culinary-arts classes here and learn to bake American style. "We wanted to do something special, not what you could buy at any store," says Britt, who entered the business with ample credentials to back up her commitment to quality.
At 17, Britt became a confectioner trainee at Dokken's Konditori in Vestby, Norway. When the chef retired for health reasons 18 months later, Britt became supervisor of five confectioners and two trainees. Before moving here last year, she worked at patisseries in Denmark and Luxembourg and managed pastry production for Oslo bakeries. She's the youngest winner of the master confectioner degree in Norway.
Some of Britt's awards are displayed on a wall at Patisserie Alinea, including the St. Honore Order for her win last year of this annual competition of Europe's confectioners in Denmark.
While Britt was polishing her culinary skills in Scandinavia, Rune was getting his master of business administration degree at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.
Rune is general manager and Britt is vice president and production manager. In addition to the retail business, they wholesale to caterers, restaurants and hotels, and sell custom wedding cakes. "The only problem with these is that everyone wants to have them ready at 5 p.m. Saturday," she says. But she's accustomed to pressure, generally working 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Examples of Britt's handiwork: The Raspberry Delice, in heart or round shape, is three layers of genoise moistened with kirsch and filled with three layers of a fresh raspberry mousse, then frosted with marzipan or decorated with fresh fruit.
The Carmelita is three layers of genoise moistened with amaretto and filled with a caramel-hazelnut mousse, then covered with marzipan or rolled fondant. Kransekake, the traditional celebration cake of Norway, is baked almond paste rings stacked into a pyramid, then decorated with marzipan flowers, royal icing and small Norwegian flags.
Many cake decorations are created with white chocolate, sugar paste and almond paste. They import 900 pounds of almond paste from Oslo at a time, and use about 40 pounds a week.
Naccarato and Towner opened Dessert Works on Phinney Avenue North, a few blocks north of Woodland Park Zoo, in December, about two weeks after the Harkestads started their business.
Towner, who previously worked for Nordstrom Catering and was pastry chef for the Yarrow Bay Grill in Kirkland, had done groundwork to get the business off to a quick start with the arrival in town of his sister.
Naccarato perfected her artistry with cakes and desserts as pastry chef for Michael's, a Santa Monica restaurant renowned for its California cuisine.
Before coming here, she and her former husband operated a restaurant for seven years and a bakery - two floors below the restaurant - for six years in Aspen, Colo. She's enjoying the steadier work life in Seattle. At the ski resort there was intense activity, then nothing, with the businesses closed for two months in the spring and two months in the fall.
Nearly 90 percent of Dessert Works business is wholesale. They make products for 15-20 restaurants, plus catering companies, espresso bars and special corporate orders.
The fact that restaurant customers seldom know the luscious desserts they eat come from the small Phinney Ridge kitchen doesn't seem to bother this sister-brother team.
"As long as we get paid for it, we're happy," Towner says. They get plenty of positive feedback from neighborhood customers who drop by and select sweets, many of them crowned with fresh fruits, from the modest-sized shop's display cases.
"Customers tell us they appreciate the look of our desserts," Naccarado says, "but our goal is to make them taste even better, with clean, crisp flavors. Too often in life we take a bite of something beautiful, then decide it wasn't as good as our brains told us it would be."
The owners work quickly and efficiently in a small kitchen, sharing the responsiblities, with Towner doing much of the prep work and Naccarado much of the finishing decorations and details. But when one of them says, "I can't do this one more time," the other steps in to complete the task.
What do the customers rave about most? The Strawberry Bagatelle, an almond biscuit layered with fresh berries and a white chocolate mousse, topped with graceful petals of white chocolate. And the Chocolate Hazelnut Souffle Cake, filled with hazelnut cream and wrapped with hazelnut and semisweet chocolates. And the Heath Bar cake, a caramel custard base layered with caramel, ganache and caramel mousse, then topped with chocolate ganache and wrapped in chocolate.
Both sets of siblings are somewhat bemused that some customers and friends find it remarkable brothers and sisters can get along so well in their business enterprises. But they say they've gotten to know each other better through this close day-to-day relationship. Mutual respect and cooperation is what makes it work, they agree.
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