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Ingredient inquisition

By Andrea Faiad

afaiad@postbulletin.com

Can Steve Ross' of Roscoe's Great Bar-B-Que and Burgers sauce recipe be bought?

While we're asking, what's in the coconut cake that Bunnie Powers gave to her sons Joe and Chris Powers for their Canadian Honker Restaurant?

And, please tell us, how does Cynthia Daube make her carrot cake and other goodies at Daube's Bakery, Daube's Pastry Pavilion, and Daube's Konditorei and German Restaurant?

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All three Rochester restaurateurs agreed to be interviewed about their recipes, unaware of the inquisitor's real aim to get those secrets …

; The tape recorder is on.

Wearing down Ross

Ross is sitting in a plastic lawn chair across a small table, in a yard behind his Fourth Street Southeast outdoor restaurant location. Behind him, his meat smokehouse and sauce storage facility loom large.

He's an affable guy. Quick with a joke, and a tall tale about the time he hired a hypnotist to help him recover his barbecue sauce recipe one spring when he forgot it. He's kidding, of course. Or is he?

The middle of the conversation goes something like this:

Q: What's so secret about your secret recipe?

A: The honey from the happy bees.

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Q: Ever approached by someone suspicious?

A: No.

Q: Anyone ever try to get it out of you?

A: No …; They know I wouldn't tell them.

Q: What's your sign?

A: Leo.

Q: (Aha! A Leo. Zodiac royalty.) Are you good at keeping secrets?

A: Yes.

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Q: How many living people know the recipe?

A: Two for sure.

Q: Has anyone ever tried to steal your recipe?

A: I don't know.

Q: How many ingredients?

A: Eight.

Q: I know five so far, you wanna give me one more?

He laughs.

Our talk continues. Nearly an hour into the interview, Ross is weakening. By now, he's revealed six of his eight ingredients. The inquisitor's hunch is the other two are self-explanatory.

But, in his mind, he's only divulged five.

"You still don't know the measurements," he reminds, grinning.

Nor do we know the name of the Stewartville guy who mixes the big batches of sauce, or the contact information for the former employee, now living in France (how convenient?) who knows how to make it from seven years of watching Ross make it.

But we do know he can be bought.

"Let's put it this way, if Kwik Trip wants the corner, I'd give them the recipe with it," Ross says, laughing. "I'm getting old."

Outsmarting Powers

Five days later, in a grandmotherly fashion, Powers sets a 4-inch square piece of her famous coconut cake with the special white frosting and maraschino cherry on top across the room. It's in sight but out of reach. Her gentle nature belies her cunning effort to distract.

Her posture doesn't, however. She's clutching a plush, white stuffed rabbit on her lap while she, often with a grin, sidesteps questions about that cake.

A loose interpretation of the conversation:

Q: It's a cake, must be flour in it?

A: Well …

; Q: How many ingredients?

A: I'm not going to give you any.

Q: Do you talk in your sleep?

A: No.

Q: Are you afraid to walk alone at night?

A: That's ridiculous to be walking alone at night. It's just common sense.

Q: Are you good at keeping secrets?

A: I am very good. I have friends who tell me things and say, "Don't tell anyone." And I don't tell anyone.

Q: Like what?

A: (Pause.) You're tricking me.

Q: What's your sign?

A: Gemini.

Q: A Gemini? (Talkative.) You're not supposed to be good at keeping secrets.

Talk about your daughter-in-law's raspberry chocolate cake also available at the restaurant …

; A: (She seems to flinch.) It's very good. But it isn't quite as good as my cake. …; My cake's "it" around here.

Q: Are you ever going to reveal the recipe?

A: I could say if you pay me enough money, I might give it to you …; then again, I might not.

Q: Are you ever going to reveal that recipe?

A: Are you kidding? Never.

Powers wins.

She hands over the cake, and just before she closes the door, says sweetly: "I hope I gave you enough for your story."

Controlling Daube

Two days later, Daube sits, as directed, at a corner table for two in her Daube's Bakery location.

She covets many recipes, but knows her carrot cake and chocolate carrot cake with toffee cream cheese frosting are signature items.

An experienced pro, she, with her lilting, precise voice, cleverly takes control of the discussion early on.

Weary from a head cold, the interrogator barely notices until later when she listens to the tape.

A sample:

Q: People ever ask you for your recipes?

A: Almost never. (Chuckles.) They probably know I won't give it away.

…; I truly don't think that these are culinary secrets. Any person who's savvy can figure it out. There are some things home cooks can't do. We get flavors from vendors that you can't find on the retail market. There are some things that you can't do because you won't be making the batches we make. I can't make French bread at home the way I can make it here. And it's not just the oven. If you were here at 4 o'clock in the morning and watched bread being made and tried to do the same thing in a tiny kitchen …; there's a magical volume that simply can't be replaced. If you've ever seen bread dough that's so alive it's practically jumping out of the bowl, you'd realize …

; Q: Have you always been good at keeping secrets?

A: (Laughs.) I'm terrible at keeping secrets. But I'm not sure that I've had many secrets to keep. (Laughs.) I'm impressed by people who are secretive, enjoy keeping little tidbits to themselves, even when they're not necessary. It isn't part of my personality.

Q: What's your sign?

A: Capricorn.

(The goat: Determined and practical.)

Daube continues to chat about her recipes, about how she's grown more secretive through the years. ("It's kind of fun to have a little secret inside," she says. "It's a little repository of good feeling.")

She talks about her travels, other not-as-good carrot cakes she's tasted. She talks about the week she spent developing the sour (starter) used to make her famous fresh breads. She talks about her green mayonnaise, hummus, pate, and so on. She offers tips -- use fresh carrots for carrot cake, for instance.

But after an hour, she's revealed nothing.

And the interrogator leaves without asking, perhaps due to illness. …; More likely because she knows Daube would never cave.

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