Written by FEIFEI SUN
Photography by MICHAEL SCHALK
THIS SPRING, PASTRY CHEF Natasha Gaskill prepares to open her first brick-and-mortar restaurant, Sixby, after providing desserts to some of the city’s best restaurants, a slew of viral ice cream and donut pop-ups, and a stint as executive pastry chef at The Grey. Locals can also find Sixby at the Forsyth Farmers’ Market this season.
Here, Gaskill talks about the early inspiration for her dream restaurant, spring produce and building a new kind of hospitality model that prioritizes the guest — and employee — experiences alike.
ON THE INSPIRATION FOR SIXBY
I live in Ardsley Park and always walk my dogs on this loop that passes by this crazy building on the corner of Bee Road and Victory Drive — the address is 6 Bee Road. I first saw it about a decade ago. It’s like a concrete block rather than a building, with an asymmetrical roof on it. Now [the owners] have painted it purple. But it’s a totally wild space, and I loved it as soon as I saw it. I thought it would make for the best coffee shop place — and there are no coffee shops off of Daffin [Park], which I think is nuts. I made a Pinterest board called 6 Bee — and not to get so woo-woo with it — that acted like a manifestation board. I’d think, “Oh, this is what the menu would be like,” or “These are the chairs that would go inside.” It was a launchpad for this space that I was constantly thinking about. (Editor’s note: At the time of press, the location for Sixby is still in the works.)
ON COLLABORATING WITH SIXBY AND HOTEL LUGASH CO-OWNER MATT PALMERLEE
I met Matt in early 2021 through a mutual friend Chris Wilkins, who had run the bread program at The Florence [Hugh Acheson’s former restaurant]. I was wanting to open a bake shop, and he had the concept of Hotel Lugash, which is a tiny restaurant and bar. I pitched him on going in together since we’d never be operating at the same time, and the building would be utilized the whole day. We’ve both had opportunities to work for celebrity chefs, which has really informed the type of work environments we want — what we find important, what we don’t want to be part of our culture and what we’re building. All our line items were in sync, so while we didn’t know each other really well as people, having that shared history made it easy to talk about things.
We’ll collaborate on the menu for both Sixby and Hotel Lugash, and the idea is for the space to be like those all-day cafes in Portugal or Spain. And we’d like to do brunch. I know it’s not a popular opinion among restaurant people, but I personally love brunch.
“We’ve both had the opportunity to work for celebrity chefs, which has really informed the type of work environments we want — what we find important, what we don’t want to be part of our culture and what we’re building.”
ON FINDING BALANCE
Matt and I are both super excited about exploring different labor models that some restaurants have used since COVID-19 — for example, more holistic and equal ways of dividing tips across the whole team, from the front of house to back of house. Mailea Weger of Lou Nashville, in particular, has been incredibly generous in sharing the business model of her restaurant and talking to me about it. As someone who has predominantly worked in the back of house, I’ll say from experience that those jobs — even at the highest management level — are barely touching what the front of house makes.
We also feel strongly about putting an emphasis on work-life balance, and not in a lip-service way. I never did less than 65 hours a week at every restaurant I’ve worked in. Once I worked 58 days in a row. I’d love to say my experience was an exception, but most people in the back of house work to the point of exhaustion, and they lose all creativity.
ON COOKING FOR HER COLLEGE-AGED SONS
Ha, it’s so basic. It’s this creamy penne pasta with rotisserie chicken and broccoli. Every time they get home from school, that’s what they ask for. It was one of those things I started making when I went back to work because I just didn’t have a lot of time.
The other thing they love is also basic. My husband, Nathan, and I have known each other since high school, and he used to work at this place in Washington called Bob’s Burgers and Brew. They had this sandwich called the Squirrel sandwich — I have no idea why because there weren’t even squirrels where we lived. It’s chopped beef with onions, barbecue sauce and provolone cheese, served on griddled bread.
ON SPRINGTIME IN SAVANNAH
Spring is such a weird time here because it happens in the blink of an eye. It never lasts long enough for me. You’re lucky if you can find baby carrots and peas at the farmers’ market for two weekends. But one bonus is that, as a pastry chef, you get strawberries so early. We wouldn’t get them in Washington, where I’m from, until mid-June, but here you can get them starting at the end of April.
STRAWBERRY CARDAMOM PALMIERS
Shared by Pastry Chef Natasha Gaskill // SERVES 20-22 cookies
“Palmiers are a pleasing cookie made with puff pastry dough and spiced sugar, simultaneously tender and crisp. They are a perfect foil for spring strawberries. I utilize Anson Mills Colonial Style Fine Cloth-Bolted Pastry Flour and quick homemade jam to optimize nutrition and flavor, but [there is] no shame in substituting store-bought for either. The recipe yields 20ish cookies, but it doubles with ease. Sliced, pre-baked cookies freeze beautifully and are ever-ready when the mood strikes.”
½ c. strawberries, caps removed and halved
2 tsp. lemon juice
¼ c. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
¼ c. cold water
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 sheet of puff pastry dough, defrosted
½ c. coconut sugar (granulated sugar can be used instead, but the flavor
will be different)
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. sea salt
Combine strawberries, lemon juice, sugar and salt in a saucepan and let sit for 30 minutes. Once the strawberries have released their juices, bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until strawberries have broken down, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Mix cornstarch and cold water in a bowl, and add to the gently bubbling mix. Cook over medium-low heat until the jam is transparent and thick. Allow the jam to cool.
Combine coconut sugar, cardamom and salt in a bowl. Pour ¼ cup of the spiced sugar mixture evenly on a flat surface for rolling. Unfold the puff pastry dough and spread the remaining spiced sugar evenly on top of the dough.
Roll dough to a 13-inch by 13-inch square. The spiced sugar should be nicely embedded in both sides of the dough.
Spread a thin layer of jam, side to side, over the dough. You won’t use all the jam you made, so you can save it for another day.
Roll both sides of the dough to meet in the center.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to chill for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Slice the chilled dough into 3/8 inch slices and place the cut side up on sheet trays lined with parchment paper. Gather any leftover spiced sugar and jam from your work space and top your palmiers with it. (If you were planning on freezing the palmiers, place the sheet pan in your freezer until the palmiers are completely frozen. Then they can be stacked, wrapped and waiting.)
Bake on one side for six minutes, flip palmiers over and bake an additional six minutes. In my opinion, they should be deeply caramelized.
Allow to cool or not. Store in an airtight container if you have any left.