An Interview with Chef Maeve of Sugar and Scribe

chef-maeveChef Maeve Rochford, The Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship winner is the owner and executive chef of La Jolla’s Sugar and Scribe.

Rochford is enthusiastic and furthermore dedicated to bringing the longstanding baking traditions of Ireland to La Jolla, California.

A descendant of a lengthy line of exceptional Irish bakers dating back to the 1930’s, Chef Maeve carries on the family tradition of the Rochford women, by providing Southern California baked goodies and savories based on recipes that have survived generations of wars and emigration.

Sugar and Scribe focuses on serving breakfast and lunch with sweet and savory Irish cuisine, replete with a measure of attitude straight from the magical Emerald Isle.

What a pleasure it was chatting with Chef Maeve about Sugar and Scribe, her roots, and her decidedly successful career to date.

La Jolla Blue Book: Maeve, we’ve heard through the fresh grape vine that you have some huge fans in La Jolla and way beyond as well, and you’re somewhat of a rockstar with food.

Chef Maeve Rochford: I don’t know about that, but I do love creating food in my own unique way, and then making it from scratch with only fresh vegetables and fruits. I’m just one of those people who was born for a specific task. I’ve loved cooking since I was two. The task of cooking does take being creative, and to some degree inventive. Running a business in a commercial setting takes good leadership as well, and most importantly good team work. As an only child I loved working with a team, and I love working with my team here at Sugar and Scribe now. They’re a melting pot of forty two invaluable individuals, and they’ve been my partners in crime for a long time.

LJBB: You seem you have a great sense of humor, and you mentioned that laughter is an important part of the restaurant business. Why is laughter so important?

CMR: Laughter is critical, especially in the restaurant world. You spend ninety percent of your time either being critical or criticizing. It’s every plate, every egg, every leaf of salad. It’s every detail, every heartbeat. It’s very rare that you allow yourself to hear the positive. Everything you do is gray, and you’re constantly questioning yourself and hearing the negative. So if you don’t have laughter, you will not survive. I’m a non-drinker, but laughter is my bloody mary. I have staff members who know just when to say something that will crack the inner ice queen in me and bring out the Disney girl.

LJBB: For folks who haven’t been to Sugar and Scribe before, what would you like for them to know?

CMR: The most important thing I’d like for people to know is that every single item on the menu here is made in-house daily. From croissants, to our jams and syrups, it’s all made from scratch- that is why I have a huge kitchen staff. They are like my crazy family, and I just can’t live without them. I love my guys on the line. They never call in sick, and they’re are always ready to go. My entire staff is devoted.

Because we make everything from scratch, there’s this very scary feeling of things going wrong because I can’t possibly taste everything myself. I am really dependent on my staff to get it right, and so I’m lucky that they successfully give it their very best every single day. I mean that with all my heart. They have true grit.

LJBB: What do you love most about having a business in La Jolla?

CMR: I love La Jolla! It’s become my home. The community has taken me in like I’m one of their own, the same as if I was born and raised here. It’s insane how nice they’ve been to me from the beginning.

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LJBB: Can you name two items off of the menu that you really love?

CMR: If I’m going to go with sweet, I would definitely say my lemon curd pancakes. I think my pancakes are the reason I have a husband. Others seem to love them too. I won an award for one of the best pancakes in Southern California, because they’re just a whole new way of thinking about eating a pancake. I’m more of a savory gal, so I’d definitely have to say our California Benedict with barbacoa is off the charts. With it you get a house-made english muffin, avocado, red onion, house-made mustard ground hollandaise with baracoa, and of course poached eggs. No one really even takes the time to make english muffins anymore. It’s a lost art because it’s a four part process, and most restaurants don’t wanna deal with anything that takes more than two parts.

LJBB: I read that your Irish heritage influences the recipes you create and that they’re generations old. Is it true that you’re still using those recipes? 

CMR: Absolutely, I do use them. Our shepherd’s pie and Guinness beef stew recipes have been in our family for hundreds of years, and passed down from mother to daughter for generations. I’m officially the only American in my family. Everyone else in my family is from Ireland, and most are still there, except for a few cousins that live in London or neighboring cities of Europe. When people ask me where I’m from, I say that I’m American. However when I think of my heritage, I am my heritage. I am Irish.

The baraco I use on the eggs benedict is Mexican, but that’s a good influence of where I currently live.  Avocado is not happening in Ireland, but it is here and in my life now. The hollandaise sauce for the benedict is made with Coleman’s english mustard powder, and there’s nothing more Irish on earth than Coleman’s. Then the english muffin is clearly owned by the Europeans, and I make that from scratch. So, I feel like almost everything I do is a compilation of my heritage and my life now here in La Jolla.

Another example is the lemon curd pancake. Lemon curd in Ireland is like breathing. The Irish love anything that has the word “curd” on the end of it. So when I started to think about making pancakes and how to make them different, I thought of lemon curd. I start my pancakes with a wet ingredient. Pancakes have become very Americanized, but not the way I do it! I made and Irish pancake and I’m winning the hearts of many.

LJBB: You’ve come out with your own bakery line. Can you tell us a little about that?

CMR: Yes, my cakes stands, cake platters, dessert platters, and all of the bakeware comes out in late October. It’s really exciting. I’m excited about the seasonal colors that I chose for the seasons. A lot of the colors I did in an amazing grace celate silicone ware, which is really fun. It will be available online, at Home Goods, and select Bloomingdales.

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LJBB: Congratulations on winning the Food Network’s holiday baking championship with your elegant three tiered cake, top with a sleigh. That’s exciting! What was it like, and what have things been like for you since the show? 

CMR: Thanks, it was a very exciting experience. I had a lot of fun on the show. I think that in terms of bakeries, since winning the show, I’ve become known best for my interesting seasonal changes. We don’t have a set menu. What you see on the menu today may not be on it tomorrow, and that’s because we make everything with fresh produce only. My chefs cook with whatever fruits and vegetables are fresh, fun and different that day. One day they’ll be preparing quince muffins and the next dutch apple turnovers.

LJBB: Competing on a huge network show and opening your bakery in the middle of a recession turned out to be a huge success for you. Both of those were probably risks for you as well. Would you consider yourself to be a risk taker?

CMR: I would say that I am a risk taker by nature. I’m a jump now and learn to grow wings as I fall type of a gal, but I would say this: take the risks that are calculated. I know when I started I did not do the best job. I was not the best business person.  

However, I also knew that I was willing to outwork anybody on planet earth. There was just no one who was willing to put more hours in than me, and there was nothing that could detour me from reaching my goal line. I was determined to get there some how, some way. There was no bridge, almost, that I was not willing to burn in my own personal life to succeed and flourish. That’s something that i don’t think a lot of people are willing or even able to do. I don’t have children myself, and so that’s made a big difference for me. From what I’ve learned since I’ve been in the business, if I did have children I would have given it much more consideration, because opening a restaurant of any kind can absorb your life.

The second thing I knew was that I would need a strong team behind me to support me when things became a struggle. I had that team, and they seemed more determined than me to succeed. Thanks to my mother Mary Margret, my husband Andrew and my investor Patrick, I was able to take a risk and jump into the abyss of restaurant life. I’ve had their support from the very beginning, and they’ve been right by my side ever since. I’m here because of them. I’ve always had somebody.

LJBB: What advice would you give to up and coming chefs and restaurateurs?

CMR: My advice would definitely be to find your team, and find people who are willing to take a risk and jump with you. People who are willing to pick you up when you think that you’ve given your last service, or can’t work one more hour. When you’ve work hard on something and it fails, or heard your last bit of criticism. It’s going to happen- I can guarantee it. Just when you think that everything is in place, right there where it should be, it’s all gonna swirl up like a big tornado and say, “nope.” You’re going to need a team for all these reasons and more. You’ll need them so that you can do this- I sure did. Be tenacious. Keep digging and then dig even deeper. Work even harder. Refuse to give up. That’s the one thing I’m blessed to have.

LJBB: What are some upcoming events that we can look forward to?

CMR: We have Willy Wonka Day coming up on September 30th, where we’ll change our menus and transform Sugar and Scribe into the Willy Wonka Factory.

Our head cake decorator Ray will be competing on Food Network’s Halloween Baking Champion starting on September 25th.

And of course our bakery rebuild continues, which we’re all very excited about. We’re redoing the first floor so that it’s more like a high-end coffee bar, and we’re making the pastry section twice as big. When it’s all finished it will amazing!

Come on out to Sugar and Scribe today, Thursday September 21st for complimentary house-brewed coffee and cardamom cookies. Full breakfast & lunch menu will also be available. Doors open at 7:00am!  


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