Bill Clark Wants You to Riff off Recipes

"It’s all about learning to trust yourself."

Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Bill Clark started baking and cooking as a kid, before making his way into professional kitchens. In 2017, Bill cofounded the beloved Meme’s Diner in Brooklyn and served as the pastry chef for three years before Meme’s permanently closed. Today, Bill is still cooking for others, but from his own kitchen and through his newsletter, A Piece of Cake. We joined Bill at his home to discuss his journey while he whipped up — wait for it — rosé caramel old-fashioned doughnuts.

Cooking has always been a part of my life. Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers did a lot of baking, so I was baking even as a kid. Eventually, I went to school for hotel and restaurant management, and that was where I started professionally, but in school I started with pastry kind of by chance and just ran with it.

 

By the time I moved to New York City, I thought I was going to go into front-of-house fine dining and I was trailing, but I realized that was not at all what I wanted to do. I lived around the corner from Ovenly, so I popped in there one day and started baking for them at night, and I became their wholesale manager, general manager, and ran their kitchen for a while. I left there to open up Meme’s; we were at Meme’s from November 2017 until 2020. It was almost exactly three years.

 

By the time we were winding down Meme’s, I was thinking of what was next, and a lot of my friends were saying I should write a newsletter. We approached it like a publication. I was not a writer before; I hadn’t written anything substantial since college, so it was really unexpected for me. I have to credit a lot of it to my husband because he is so supportive and a great editor. I feel like he doesn’t have to edit my work as much now as he did in the beginning. The whole journey has been really surprising.

 

My relationship with cooking has changed a lot because I went from being the pastry chef at Meme’s, and after we closed I reconnected with cooking at home and started my newsletter from there. How I relate to cooking and how it makes me feel is a bit different now; it’s not in a restaurant environment — it’s in my home, and that’s where my love for cooking started.

How I relate to cooking and how it makes me feel is a bit different now; it’s not in a restaurant environment — it’s in my home, and that’s where my love for cooking started.

 

When I’m cooking at home now I’m really developing recipes for the newsletter. That was the driving force behind cooking at home — especially when we couldn’t have people over. I also have a big running list of random ideas. Whenever I am out eating and have an idea I’ll throw it onto this list, and it’s pretty much divided between sweet and savory.

 

The newsletter process is really collaborative with my husband: I pitch things to him, and he’ll tell me what he does and doesn’t like. He has strong opinions and good taste. Sometimes an idea starts as one thing, and the finished recipe is very different. We work with Hunter, an amazing photographer, to shoot the photos, and sometimes things change when Hunter comes in. It’s all very collaborative.

Sometimes an idea starts as one thing, and the finished recipe is very different.

Even though much of my cooking now fuels the newsletter, cooking for other people has always been a big part of my life. I’m lucky to have a lot of friends who are also in food, so I spend a lot of time cooking with them. That’s really where my true love of cooking lies: cooking for others, for friends and family. That’s where the whole ethos of Meme’s Diner originated.


That’s really where my true love of cooking lies: cooking for others, for friends and family. 

 

One of the saddest things about closing the restaurant was losing touch with our regulars and the people who worked there, but there is a huge overlap between people who were going to the restaurant and people subscribing to the newsletter. We were in Fish's Eddy a few days ago shopping for some props, and one of our regulars from the restaurant came up to us and said hi. We chatted, and she and her partner have been subscribing to the newsletter and cooking from it. It was great to see that community still there.

 

Once I had all of my Great Jones products, doughnuts just spoke to me. The doughnut I made today is a classic old-fashioned sour-cream base — that’s something I’ve made a million times, and The Dutchess was the perfect size for frying them. I used Big Chill to drain the doughnuts after they were fried and also to glaze them — they’re so beefy! I was surprised!

Doughnuts just spoke to me.

 

I think people have built this idea that baking is science, and there definitely is a little more to it than that. There’s a lot of leeway in baking. It’s all about basic ratios, and if you have those basic ratios you can really tinker. My advice to home cooks is that once you land the basic ratios for things like cake or caramel, you can switch things out and swap out flavors. That’s a big part of what I do with the newsletter: provide suggested riffs and pointing out places in recipes that are a great place to riff and put your own take on it. It’s all about learning to trust yourself.

 

I love doughnuts. They’re something I would make all the time for the restaurant. I love that there’s a never-ending list of options for what you can do with them. Dutch Baby is just so cute — it was perfect for making caramel. I like using cast iron for caramel because it really retains the heat. The caramel is rosé wine-based. I love the tang you get from the rosé, and I was inspired by The Dutchess to lean into the pink of it all.

I was inspired by The Dutchess to lean into the pink of it all.

"It’s all about learning to trust yourself."

Photos by Hunter Abrams

Bill's Go-To Designs

Dutch Baby
3.5-Quart Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
$120
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Holy Sheet & Big Chill
Nonstick cooling rack and half sheet pan bundles
$65$50
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The Dutchess
6.75-Quart Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
$160
Shop Now