Setting the Table with Black Seed’s Dianna DaoheungD
ianna Daoheung, also known as “Mother of Bagels” and executive chef and head baker at Black Seed Bagels, meshes the taste of Montreal with New York in her honey-woodfire-baked crafted bagels meant for every meal of the day. Setting your table—or table/office/desk as we now know it—with cream cheese and doughy goodness to help you through a time like this. With the shift from grab-and-go to making your own at home, bagel lovers could choose from simply toasting and topping or trying to bake their own from scratch with Black Seed’s shared recipes.
And people love their little bit of round dough. They inspire a certain kind of loyalty from Black Seed’s customers, Dianna says that when the shop had to close early on before pivoting to take-away, “I constantly got DMs asking if everything was ok and how much they missed us being open.” Since then Black Seed has risen back up like a loaf of pain au levin to reward that loyalty and even opened a new cart in Rockefeller Center.
We asked Dianna about how she kept the New York love of bagels fulfilled even through the midst of the pandemic and the efforts she has taken to keep Black Seed on its feet and moving forward. Just like a New Yorker with a bagel walking to work would.
You’re ordering takeout from your favorite place—what is something you need to make it feel special?
Dianna: I always request to not have any plastic utensils as I love using real silverware to make it seem like a “real” meal. I also never eat out of the takeout containers and always “replate” my take out and make it look fancy.
One thing you can’t eat a meal without?
Dianna: I can’t eat a meal without a napkin. I am not going to lie, I am a messy eater and tend to inhale my food like all cooks I know. But I still haven’t learned the art of keeping myself clean while doing so, unless I eat over a garbage can. [laughs]
What’s the thing people most commonly misunderstand about bagels?
Dianna: That they are only really a breakfast thing—especially if you don’t live in NYC. Real New Yorkers know that you can eat a bagel anytime of the day.
Why a Montreal-style bagel and not New York-style (any reason besides that you were working with Noah at Mile End)?
Dianna: Well, we like to say Black Seed is a hybrid—New York and Montreal—as the only thing that really nods to Montreal is the honey in the recipe and in the kettle with water, and the wood-fired oven. We just really love the wood-fired aspect and the hint of sweetness the honey lends.
How many times a week do you end up eating bagels?
Dianna: EVERY DAY! Not even kidding.
If you had to pick your favorite bagel on the Black Seed menu, which would it be?
Dianna: This is an easy one: it’s the smoked salmon classic on a sesame bagel (salmon, cream cheese, thinly sliced red onion, tomatoes, capers).
It’s been pretty cool to see the restaurant industry come together during this time. What else can people do to help? Anything you’ve done that you’d recommend?
Dianna: The restaurant industry has some of the best humans working in it. I think the best things people can continue to do to help is to purchase, purchase, purchase from restaurants and also follow the safety guidelines.
What is your go-to delivery order after a long day?
Dianna: I splurge on sushi. It’s my treat after a long week.
I could say I have sacrificed so much in the past six years but I don’t see it as a sacrifice when Black Seed has brought so much to my life.
How has being a woman and first-generation American been for you in the restaurant industry?
Dianna: It has its ups and downs but for the most part it has been positive for me. People forget that this industry has always been run by immigrants. The toughest parts for me were when I was faced in very typical “male” positions—grill station, butchering, etc.—but once I proved myself it was less challenging from there.
What did it mean for you to participate in the Bakers Against Racism Bake Sale?
Dianna: This was such a great experience as it was bakers (professional and non) participating in something that is so “old school” but got the message that we cared and raised tons of money. It meant a lot for me to participate in this as a minority and also running a business with a staff that is extremely diverse.
Are bagels your favorite thing to bake?
Dianna: Bread in general is my favorite thing to bake just due to the science and skill it takes.
What emotions did you feel when Black Seed celebrated its 6th birthday this year?
Dianna: So many! Ugh, even answering this question is making me cry. It has made me so proud to see how fast we have grown and to see employees that have been with me since day one still with me and grow. I could say I have sacrificed so much in the past six years but I don’t see it as a sacrifice when Black Seed has brought so much to my life that I would have never ever imagined. I am honored and so lucky to have Black Seed in my life for the past six years.
Who’s inspiring you in the restaurant or wider culinary world right now?
Dianna: Oh man, where do I start. Honestly I wish I could speak to just one person but the whole industry is inspiring me right now. Seeing the creativity, kindness, togetherness and courage in this has made me proud to be a part of it.