Dovecote Café chef Amanda Mack talks about going big by thinking small

Amanda Mack / Photo by E. Brady Robinson

Dovecote Café chef Amanda Mack thinks in the micro—and both literally and figuratively. Literally, Mack is currently working on a line of sweet and savory hand pies. We are sitting in the kitchen in her Reservoir Hill home, and she’s mixing up the dough for a batch right now.

“You would think the bigger the butter the better,” she tells me, plopping down a big plastic bag of full of butter crumbles. “When you’re baking, you want those big pieces of butter . . . but what I realized with doing the hand pies, because they’re smaller or like turnovers, you actually benefit more doing smaller pieces of butter so that it’s more evenly distributed.”

“With a hand pie the crust is your first experience with the dish,” she continues. “So it’s got to be amazing.”

But she has found that thinking small just makes sense when it comes to her business. Mostly, that means focusing closely on what she does best.

Mack has worked at Dovecote for for a little over a year, but with a baby on the way (she also has a 4-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son) and her burgeoning hand pie business, she’s temporarily stepped away.

“I’m still a collaborator with Dovecote,” she says. “I’ll always be with Dovecote.”

Her profile as a chef and food curator is also growing. Last year, she had a recipe published in Food & Wine magazine—a kale and roasted pumpkin salad accented with blue cheese, yogurt, and chiles—and she worked on an event put on by the biannual, woman-focused food magazine Cherry Bomb, organized by Krystal Mack (no relation) of blk // Sugar bakery.

“It’s good to have like a go-to product. I can be a chef, I can work here, I can be at Dovecote, I can do all these great things but when you’re trying to get to a larger scale and be on a bigger platform, sometimes it takes being known for a specific thing. So that’s why I’m really focusing on . . . what is my thing? What do I enjoy most, what’s most me? What are the people most receptive to? And even though I’m a great cook, I think I’m an amazing baker,” she says with a smile. “I think I want to be known for that whole sweet and savory, that small plates and small bites. It’s my thing.”

Mack grew up in Baltimore, in McCulloh Homes. Her grandmother was a chef who worked in some of the fanciest restaurants in Baltimore, she says. Her mom sent her out the door with homemade granola, along with the normal stuff you eat when you grow up in a food desert.

“We also had [grocery store chain] Murry’s . . . we had Steak Umms,” she says.

Mack says she has tried to take some of her cooking techniques from her mother and grandmother, but she’s put her own fresh spin on things too. For one, she’s tried to be more health-conscious when it comes to food. That started 10 years ago, when she gave birth to her son.

“It was important to me at that time in my life, I made sure that he ate things that were good for him and good for his body, even if he didn’t like them,” she says.

One thing she hasn’t strayed from, though, is the slow methodical way of cooking that her grandmother favored. She says that she doesn’t want to take shortcuts, and prefers to make everything by hand.

“If I put it in a machine, then I feel like it’s from me, but it’s not really from me. Like I could do this in two minutes and 30 seconds in a KitchenAid [mixer],” she says, referring to the dough she’s working through with her hands. “But it’s like, do I want to? When people experience my food, I want them to taste the work that I put into it. It’s not easy and I’m tired at the end of it, but it’s so good.”

Photo by E. Brady Robinson

Mack says she likes catering to small, intimate groups where she can curate every part of the diners’ experience—from linen, to flatwear, to food.

“I love it when you create something that people will remember after. Like grandma’s pie or grandma’s biscuits.”

She’s also opening a shared kitchen space this year, where food and drink experts can hone their craft and learn to market their wares.

“I understand the importance of access to a commercial kitchen and what that can really do for your business,” she says. “I also understand how expensive it is.”

She also understands looks matter when you’re trying to make a name for yourself in the food business.

“Making it is step one but if you don’t have access to a professional photographer, if you don’t have branding, if you don’t have a pitch, you just make good food. So I want to get people from baking and making to being the brand that stands alone.”

Amanda Mack’s hand pies will come in apple caramel ginger and chocolate cherry flavors available for pre-order starting Feb. 10 via email (hello@MrsMarriedMack.com) or by phone ([443] 882-4534) and available for purchase in March at Coffee Therapy, Extract Juice Bar, and Ground & Griddled at R. House. Find her on Instagram @mrsmarriedmack.

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