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Ask a Chef: Cassie Piuma on Breakfast Sandwiches and Boston's Best Eats

Hilary Deutsch

March 02, 2016

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After years of honing her craft at JBF Award winner Ana Sortun’s Oleana, Cassie Piuma opened the meze mecca Sarma to rave reviews. Piuma heads to New York on International Women’s Day to treat Beard House diners to a feast honoring the culinary contributions of women across the globe. In anticipation of her dinner, we spoke to the Massachusetts native about her memorable sushi date with her newborn daughter, her ultimate breakfast sandwich, and her comprehensive list of New England's best eats.

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What is your inspiration behind the menu for this Beard House event?

This Beard House dinner is inspired by the small plates, or meze, of the Eastern Mediterranean region, but I've incorporated some new flavor combinations and a fresh perspective to the menu.

What's a dish on your Beard House event menu that you're especially excited about or proud of, and why? 

The crab and red lentil kibbeh highlights the ingredients I was most fond of while traveling throughout Singapore—coconut, curry, lime leaves—and wraps them into a very iconic Levantine dish. It's fun and playful and really embodies the concept of the menu at Sarma.

What’s your guilty-pleasure food?

Breakfast sandwiches! Cheesy eggs on a griddled English muffin with lots of bacon, avocado, and hot sauce. My husband makes the best!

Tell us about the last great meal you ate.

After the birth of my daughter, I was desperate for a proper sashimi meal. I strapped her on my chest and sat solo at the bar at Boston's Uni. The chefs there hooked me up with the most incredible tasting menu full of all the bright, fresh flavors I'd missed during my pregnancy. It was a perfectly executed meal and I truly felt like myself again while I was eating it. Of course, reality set in during the last course, when my newborn projectile vomited all over the sushi window! The staff was super kind and basically pretended that it never happened, even though it was pretty epic. 

Who's been your biggest inspiration, and what dish would you cook to thank them? 

It's so hard to pick! I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of inspiring people in my life. A few are:

  • My mom, who always supported my decisions (good or bad) and encouraged me to seek true happiness. If not for her, I never would have gone to culinary school, met my husband, or opened a restaurant. She had a Greek catering business when I was a kid and taught me how to roll tiropitas​, the savory Greek pastry. I’d probably try to make a fancy version for her, even though I know they would pale in comparison.
  • The late, great George Germon of Al Forno. He pushed me out my comfort zone and never accepted anything less than perfection. I would sear him a super fresh scallop right out of the water and drizzle it with the best Italian olive oil money could buy.
  • Ana Sortun, owner of Oleana, Sofra, and my business partner at Sarma. She introduced me to a whole new world of flavors and textures and changed my career trajectory forever. I would make her the dish that first blew my mind while working at Oleana: a cheese borek.  

What are your favorite dishes and places to eat these days? 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind." —Doctor Seuss 

View all upcoming Beard House events and book your seat at jamesbeard.org/events.

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Hilary Deutsch is editorial assistant at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram.