Rochester Motor's Dan Bissen has a delicious hidden talent
Dan Bissen has worked as a car service advisor for more than a decade, but he has a secret talent — he makes an amazing cheesecake. So good that he makes the cheesecakes for Victoria’s Ristorante and Wine Bar and The Tap House. And it all started as a bet.
ROCHESTER — Dan Bissen, 45, has worked as a service advisor at Rochester Motor Cars for 15 years, but many people don’t know that he has a secret talent — he makes an amazing cheesecake. So good, in fact, that he is the exclusive cheesecake chef for two local restaurants, Victoria’s Ristorante & Wine Bar and The Tap House.
Bissen, a Rochester native, sat down with the Post Bulletin to discuss his sweet gig and advice for newbie bakers. And, of course, to share a generous slice of his famous cheesecake.
Between mouthfuls, Post Bulletin reporter Molly Castle Work asked Bissen how he first got recognized for his cheesecake-baking prowess. Laughing, he said it all started with a bet.
How did you get started with Tap House and Victoria’s? How did that connection happen?
Have you ever met Ken Nuss? Natalie is the owner of Victoria’s and Ken is her dad. He always boasts up his stuff. And I said, “I can make a cheesecake better than you serve.” He went, “Game on.” So I did.
Wait so you were just chatting and bet you could do it?
I'm a good one for that.
Pretty much. It started as a joke. I said, “I’ll bring one on Monday.” OK. Dragged one in. We cut it, had a piece, had a cup of coffee, went outside and finished our coffee. All of a sudden here comes Natalie and one of her friends and they said, “You did that?” And I’m like, “Yeah. The guy who has helped you with your cars for a better part of a decade knows how to make a cheesecake.”
So did they say, “We’re impressed; you’re hired?”
They said here, figure this out and let's see if it works. Test a few different ideas. See what sticks. I’ve been told to burn a few recipes.
Which recipes have you decided to ditch?
The Bailey's one. It was too sweet. There was a cannoli one that didn't fly very well. I was given a no-bake recipe for peanut butter once. I made that to a T and then I was told, “No. Take your cheesecake and make it peanut butter flavor.” So I did.
Did you always like to cook?
No. I wasn’t impressed with the cheesecakes I’d found at the store — they just didn’t taste great. So one day I bought a mixer, made my own and here you go.
Was it good on the first try?
I burned 15 of them before I figured it out. It's a weird art form. You have to use a water bath — that's the key.
What’s a water bath?
Take a roasting pan and throw it in the oven filled full of water. That way you steam it as you cook it, so it’s not a dry heat. This will keep it from cracking. And you’ve got to play around with your equipment. Every oven is a little different and temperature plays a big part in the baking process.
What advice would you give to newbie bakers?
It’s chemistry. You can figure it out. That's all it is. I mean, I have no formal training whatsoever. I just figured this out on my own. It was a challenge. So if you burn it, don't give up. Try again.
So did you like science and chemistry in school?
I’ve always been good at math. And baking is a numbers game. Make chocolate chip cookies in the middle of winter and make them now and see what happens using the exact same recipe. They’ll flatten right out because the butter is too soft.
Did you figure all this out by searching online, etc?
I’d test different things. My cheesecake recipe is one that I morphed on my own. You take your basic principles and you figure out what works and how to make it better. And, if you want the flavor to stand out, don’t use cheap ingredients.
Would you branch out to other baked goods or are you sticking with cheesecake?
I’m a one-trick dog.
Do your coworkers at Rochester Motor Cars know about your baking skills?
Yes. They keep hounding me to bring more in. I bring it in every now and then, but, you know what? You don’t want to dilute the water with it either. Make them go out and buy it.
Maybe this is a silly question. Is there anything in common between your work there and making your cheesecake?
I make people happy. That's what it comes down to.
Asked & Answered is a weekly question-and-answer column featuring people of southeastern Minnesota. Is there somebody you'd like to see featured? Send suggestions to email@example.com .