The Wasted Bakers, New York
The Wasted Bakers - Bringing together cocktails and dessert for an unforgettable bite.
There are few things in life that can elevate your day like a superb cocktail or a delectable dessert.
Even in a rush-rush non-stop environment like New York City, there is always time to hit the reset button and kick off your evening with a soothing cocktail. And, as we all know, no dinner is ever really complete without a sweet ending to put an exclamation point on a date or get-together with friends.
Hey, you've got to fortify yourself for the next morning and get in the right frame of mind for life in the fast lane. No judgments here!
Mixologists and bakers extraordinaire Joseph Criscuolo and Richard McCluskey know a thing or two about the secret to turning out a fantastic cocktail and a sweet treat that will have you coming back for more!
They have answered the question that has plagued the minds of scholars, artists and fraternity houses alike over the centuries; "How in the world can I eat my alcohol?"
Throughout history, alcohol and sweets have enjoyed only a brief flirtation, at best.
But, now, thanks to the tireless efforts and imagination of The Wasted Bakers, the marriage between a good, stiff drink and a luscious pastry has finally been achieved.
After years of endless experimentation, behind the bar and in their apartment kitchens, these magical bakers have succeeded in conjuring up macarons and cupcakes that are infused with some of your favorite cocktail ingredients.
Getting hungry and thirsty right about now? We thought so!
These days, Joe and Rich are hard at work in their new, state of the art commercial kitchen weaving an enticing aroma of spells that will seduce your taste buds.
They are eagerly preparing a line-up of beyond delicious macarons and cupcakes for the much-anticipated World's Fair and Hello Panda Festival, which will be taking place at Citi-Field from December 6th to January 26th,2020.
The duo known as The Wasted Bakers were kind enough to take some time out of their hectic schedule to sit down and chat with Aplez.com.
Engaging and articulate, Joe and Rich both possess personalities that were made for TV. Hopefully, auditioning for a spot on the Food Network is something that they will consider doing in the near future.
Where Joe and Rich are concerned, the conversation flows naturally. You simply want them to keep talking and they are great listeners, as well. Good vibes always. They are, in short, coming from a very real place.
And, while we're on the subject of cocktail-infused delights and a bit of banter; aren't those the qualities that make for a really great bartender?
Just like the friendly, but unobtrusive barkeep, who puts a glow on your evening, after an endless day at the office; These masters of mixology have the perfect cure for whatever ails you.
Take one bite of one of their scrumptious pastries and you've punched your ticket to cocktail and dessert paradise.
If you're an Aplez.com regular, then you are well aware that we like to have our loyal readers get to know the entrepreneurs and artisan craft-makers we feature, on a personal level.
It's all about placing a face on the business.
With that in mind, Aplez.com asked the convivial bakers to fill us in on their respective backgrounds.
Joe: " I was born and raised in Staten Island and am still proud to call it home. My mother's side of the family is Greek and my Dad's is Italian. This means that being asked if I was hungry was more of a formality than an actual question". added Joe with a laugh.
"Food was coming regardless of my response. The culinary world has been the object of my obsession for as long as I can remember. I don't know exactly how or when this fascination began, but being essentially "force-fed " delicious meals by my grandparents probably had something to do with it".
"Around the time I entered middle school, I became totally engrossed in cooking shows, with my favorite chefs being Julia Child and Alton Brown. These chefs taught me that it was possible to speak through food. I loved learning almost as much as doing the actual cooking."
Rich, the slightly quieter baker, grew up in Ridgewood, Queens and currently resides in the next town over, Glendale.
"I'm half Irish, half Korean and I love all of it. As a baby, my mom told me that I would always be in the kitchen playing with pots and pans. Then, as I got older, it was a treat just watching her cook and go through all the prep that was entailed in putting our meals on the table."
Like Joe, Richard fell victim to a cooking show addiction at a very young age.
" It was cool to see people cook in so many different ways. Not only was the ingredient variety and prep individualized, but also the setting was quite unique. "
" Alton Brown taught culinary science in a home kitchen; Mark Dacascos, the "chairman" would challenge Iron Chefs and competitors using random and often unusual ingredients while Giada De Laurentis showcased beautiful looking meals specifically designed for the family."
But, it was Richard's mom who would prove to be his greatest influence when it came to food and the power it had to make people happy.
" In our home, Kimchi was always being made. We even had a second refrigerator to house the many,various-sized glass jars that were needed. So many different kinds of vegetables and herbs were used to make the Kimchi."
However, as good as the Kimchi was, Rich's favorite dish was his Mom's Korean chicken soup.
" Instead of the typical American carrot, celery and onion chicken soup that we know, I was served something else. The KCS contains garlic, ginger, white onion, green onion and white radish. It's also served with rice instead of noodles. "
" This soup was real comfort food, getting us through so many harsh New York winters. Without any exaggeration, I can say that my Mom's chicken soup healed people. I love how one person's time and effort that is put into a dish can change the eater's mind, body and soul, for the better."
During high school, Joe worked as a busboy at a local catering hall and immediately fell in love with the camaraderie of the kitchen and overall atmosphere, which was unlike anything he had ever experienced before.
Joe told his parents that he wanted to enroll in culinary school. But, they had other ideas. It was high time that young Joseph got serious when it came to planning for a career.
In the end and against his better judgment, Joe ended up at Binghamton University. It was here that he met a fellow electrical engineering major, Rich.
" Rich and I were roommates and soon became fast friends", explained Joseph.
" We soon discovered that we shared a passion for food and alcohol. But it wasn't just bad beer. that we indulged in. We loved mixing cocktails and creating our own drinks. We cooked for friends, dabbled a little in mixology and, low and behold, people seemed to like what we came up with".
Joe and Rich's future was starting to fall into place, even though they didn't know it at the time.
After graduating from Binghamton, Richard moved out to California where he worked as a computer programmer. That was followed by a stint in, of all places, Kansas, where Rich developed software for restaurants.
Joe left school just shy of graduation and got a job working in a friend's restaurant, returning to his true love.
The dynamic duo didn't see each other for almost four years.
However, in November of 2016, Richard returned to New York for the Thanksgiving holiday. He went out with a group of old friends from college that included his old roommate Joe.
Richard feels that it was serendipity that re-united them on that fateful evening.
" We drank, chatted and shared a few laughs, but then serious talk came about. It was right outside the Papaya Dog on Saint Mark's Place that Joe and I had the idea to start up a food company. After talking about where we were in life, Joe and I decided to drop everything and give cooking a shot".
A few months later, in March of 2017, Joe and Rich officially joined forces and the baking world would never quite be the same, again.
Joe: " At first, we were kind of all over the place, looking for a concept to hang our hat on. The stress of everything kept me up at night. I texted Rich at 3 AM with the idea for an alcoholic pastry shop called The Wasted Baker. I thought it was a cool name and a quick Google search revealed very few businesses doing anything like it."
"We saw a need in the marketplace and decided to go for it." chimed in Richard.
The first few months of the company's existence, though, really tested the dedication and persistence of the enterprising bakers.
Finding a commercial kitchen to cook in took forever. Just as Joe and Rich were getting close to launching their initial line of baked goods, the kitchen closed overnight, due to mismanagement, putting around 120 businesses and food vendors out on the street.
It wasn't the happiest time, but Joe and Rich refused to let even a major setback stop them.
Bouncing back, they found a new commercial kitchen to work out of, based in Long Island City, which, by the way, is fast becoming a hotbed for artisan food and craft-makers. Spending so many hours here; this gleaming kitchen would prove to, quite literally, be Joe and Rich's home away from home
The Wasted Bakers' signature product is, of course, macarons.
Aplez.com was curious to know why they chose to start with something that is so notoriously difficult to make, even for a seasoned baker?
If you don't believe just how hard it is, then just ask one of the competitors on Master Chef whose macarons failed to please the discerning eye and palate of Gordon Ramsay. Gordon always tells the competitors on Master Chef and Hell's Kitchen that it took him forever, to reach a point where he could turn out a flawless macaron.
As Rich tells it; "When looking for a product that would be our signature, we wanted something that could challenge our skills and pique the customer's interest."
" Not many people were doing macarons and they were something that we enjoyed eating. The fact that macarons WERE almost impossible for a novice to make was the further enticement."
Hey, that's just how The Wasted Bakers roll. The journey itself is as satisfying to them as is the end result.
Currently, the brand is offering around half a dozen varieties of cocktail-infused macarons including a Mimosa that's made with Valencia Oranges, imported Italian Asti sparkling wine, and a scrumptious white chocolate ganache.
Absolutely to-die-for is the Irish Coffee macaron with a milk chocolate ganache, rich, dark roast coffee, Irish Whiskey and Irish Cream.
The Jack and Coke consist of Tennessee whiskey and cola together with a heavenly ganache of dark, luscious chocolate.
Richard adores all his "babies", but dearest to his heart is the Merlot, which is a simple but effective blend of dark chocolate with California Merlot.
" This macaron is one of our lower-alcohol flavors but it really lets the complexity of the wine shine through".
Also on offer is a macaron that pairs authentic Sicilian Limoncello with a milk chocolate ganache.
By the way, all of you moms and dads out there; your kids will NOT be left out when you visit The Wasted Bakers at the upcoming World's Fair / Hello Panda Festival.
The guys even have a non-alcoholic macaron for children of all ages, the Shirley Temple, which is composed of white chocolate and French Grenadine. Yes, it is sweet but not overly so.
This particular macaron has a very sentimental meaning to both Joe and Rich.
" At our debut market, our first customer was a three-year-old girl. Her mom bought the girl our Shirley temple. As she took her first bite,I felt a slight panic start to rise," admitted Joe.
" Children can be brutally honest. When asked if she enjoyed it, the little girl smiled wide and shook her head yes! I'll never forget that look on her face."
In addition to their soon-to-be-famous macarons, The Wasted Bakers have a bevy of moist and tasty cupcakes for you to enjoy.
Instead of simply being a delivery system for loads of buttercream, Joe and Rich's cupcakes are ingredient-driven and superbly well-balanced.
Your mouth will definitely water when you get a look at the Cosmopolitan which is a vanilla and cranberry compote cupcake with cranberry bitters, cranberry juice and a citrus-vodka buttercream swirled together with Triple Sec and lime.
There's a LOT going on here and, rest assured, this cupcake tastes as good as it looks.
Another cupcake that you have GOT to try is the Grasshopper. This creation is a Jersey Cocoa cake topped with creme de menthe, a dab of buttercream and oodles of shaved chocolate.
Break up those winter blues with a bite of the tropical Pina Colada. Your sun-filled experience starts with a dark rum and coconut cake made with Caribbean-style brown sugar that is crowned with Coco Lopez, white rum buttercream and an outrageous pineapple jam.
The Tom Collins cupcake will give your sweet tooth a buzz for sure. Imagine biting into cheesecake with a graham cracker crunch that is topped with an addicting gin and lemon curd meringue! It doesn't get any better than that.
The quality of ingredients that go into their product is extremely important to Joe and Rich. Through a great deal of trial and error, they experimented with a ridiculous amount of ingredients to find what was worthy of being included under The Wasted Bakers brand.
" We researched where to get the best chocolate, almonds, dairy, etc. ' Rich told Aplez.com.
" Whenever possible, we try and keep it American-made, organic and Fair Trade. This may not be good for our bottom line. I've been told by many that this is a bad mindset for a business owner. But, I don't care." exclaimed Joe with emphasis.
" We are only interested in making the best version of a pastry that we can. You can't get the best product without using the best ingredients. It is as simple as that."
Trust the process is a mantra that is used by corporate America and most sports teams when they are searching for an identity or re-inventing themselves.
Sometimes this much-vaunted process can merely be a public relations ploy or gimmick to keep consumers and fans interested in the product.
But, as far as The Wasted Bakers are concerned, the process is a philosophy that they live by, day in and day out.
Joe and Rich took us through the steps that are involved in turning out the perfect macaron.
" In crafting a macaron, the basic ingredients are almond flour, sugar and egg whites. That's the foundation. The process continues by making a meringue and combining it with those three ingredients. Everything is then folded together and piped onto parchment paper and baked. Now, it's time to fill the macarons with ganache."
This is where the wasted aspect comes into play. Each chocolate behaves a little different depending on fat content, emulsifiers and the like. Joe and Rich incorporate the liquid ingredients to create emulsification that is designed to maximize flavor and have the ability to resist evaporation.
Joe pointed out that," There are so many approaches to making macarons it's dizzying. If I attempted to go into every detail, this explanation would turn into a novel, before I was finished. It took three long years before we came up with a product that we were proud to serve our customers."
Never content to rest on their laurels, the baker boys have something new and taste-tempting in the works; a chocolate almond spread that goes by the name of Alexander.
Based on a variation of the Brandy Alexander cocktail, this spread uses Amaretto as the principal note. Joe and Rich plan on launching The Alexander at the World's Fair/Hello Panda Festival. When you are there, be sure to ask for a sample!
It's never going to be an easy ride when you are a small business owner. There are always going to be brush-fires to put out and a maze of bureaucratic red-tape that has to be navigated.
We asked Joe and Rich what they saw as the biggest challenges that face entrepreneurs and small business owners in today's marketplace. Their answers were succinct, practical and totally on point.
Joe: " Money is the most obvious answer. I've seen businesses struggle due to poor management and budgeting even if they DO have the capital to flourish. Also, a glaring issue that's rarely talked about is the sad fact that many business owners lack the passion and obsession that it takes to succeed. If you dread your alarm going off in the morning for work, then you need to re-evaluate your career choice".
Rich: " One of the biggest challenges for any business owner; Wasted Bakers included, is finding enough time in the day, (or night, for that matter), to sleep. When preparing to sell at a market, we need multiple shifts in the commercial kitchen we work out of, just for one day's worth of macarons and cupcakes. "
" While all of the hustle and bustle of production is happening, Joe and I still need to keep our business up to date and move forward. No matter how tough things may be, you can never look back."
At the moment, The Wasted Bakers have their plates full selling at select food and artisan craft markets throughout the city as well as accepting select catering orders on a case by case basis.
Aplez.com, though, was wondering just what the future holds for this energetic and innovative brand in, say, five years' time.
Joe and Rich are in complete agreement as to their end game.
" Long term, our goal is to open a bar/bakery/cafe. Ideally, we'd like to create a welcoming space where we can showcase our infused confections paired with the cocktail they're inspired by. If the interest keeps growing in our product, we'll get to a point when we can afford and curate the right space."
On the immediate horizon is the World's Fair/Hello Panda event. Taking place inside a collection of huge heated tents, the festival will feature over 60 multi-cultural food vendors, live music, a spectacular light show and the largest lantern festival ever held in the United States.
Your senses will be enthralled by a massive art exhibit consisting of breathtaking illuminated paper lantern sculptures. It has to be seen to be believed!
The Wasted Bakers cannot wait to make their debut at this one of a kind food party and cultural celebration.
" We'll be in excellent company. Some of the hottest food vendors in the city will be at the festival. This is our biggest event yet. As intimidating as it is, the idea of getting to put smiles on some new faces is invigorating. We also love connecting with people and are looking forward to trying some of the delicious food that's going to be served there."
Now, considering the subject matter at hand, Aplez.com would have been remiss if we didn't ask the guys what THEIR favorite cocktails are, when it's time to step away from the kitchen, for a bit, and chill out.
Joe told us that one of his go-to locations for dinner and a cocktail in his Staten Island neighborhood is Jade Island. " This place is unpretentious and affordable with a fantastic Mai Tai."
" I'm not in Astoria as often as I want to be, but when I am, I head over to The Bonnie. Great food, great aesthetic, great everything."
Joe's cocktail preferences depend on his mood as well as the occasion, whether it's a date, going out with friends or even trying out a new drink that could possibly be utilized as a future macaron or cupcake infusion.
" Definitely, the Old Fashioned is right up there. I love cocktails with history and the Old Fashioned has that in spades."
As we spoke, Joe imparted a little historical tidbit on the history of mixology.
" The word cocktail was first conceived around 1806 as a way to describe a beverage that was comprised of spirits, sugar, bitters and water. The Old Fashioned was an early evolution of this concept allegedly created by a bartender at the Pendennis Club in Kentucky. It is a prime example of American ingenuity that I will never turn down".
His second favorite cocktail is the Daquiri, a beverage that, not surprisingly, makes most people's list of all-time favorites.
" The Daquiri can be deceptively difficult to make. It is the cocktail that I use to test a bartender's skills. If they reach for Rose's lime Syrup or a pre-made mix, then you are in the wrong bar. When constructed correctly, the ingredients complement one another in a way that makes the Daquiri dance across the palate."
Joe's partner in crime, Rich, had no trouble coming up with the one cocktail that did the trick for him each and every time when his spirits need a lift.
" My fave cocktail would have to be a Rye Manhattan. It feels right before dinner. It feels right in a casino. It feels right in my hand. There isn't ever a time when I wouldn't appreciate a good Manhattan. A close number two, though, is the Kentucky Mule. The best cocktail for any Summertime outing, this elixir will keep you going all day long in the hot sun."
It was great fun conversing with The Wasted Bakers but it was time for the guys to head back to their kitchen in order to turn out some macarons for an upcoming birthday celebration.
Their day is never done. And they wouldn't have it any other way. this is what Joe and Rich live for!
Possessing a whimsical sense of humor, Joe and Rich don't take themselves too seriously. However, there's no fooling around when it comes to giving you the best tasting macaron or cupcake known to mankind. They put their heart and soul into every bite!
The Wasted Baker exists for the sole purpose of fostering a lasting relationship between humanity's greatest vices; sweets and alcohol.
Be sure to devour responsibly. That is if you have the willpower!
Contact Info :
36-46 37th Street
Long Island City N.Y. 11101
email: hello@the wastedbaker.com
The World's Fair at Hello Panda Festival
December 6th through January 26th,2020
5 PM to 10 PM
123-01 Roosevelt Avenue
Flushing N.Y. 11368