Field Notes

The Accidental Pastry Whiz at T55 Patisserie

Some of the region’s best croissants, tarts, and cookies lie at the end of a very unexpected path.

By Allecia Vermillion March 20, 2023 Published in the Summer 2023 issue of Seattle Met

Katie Pohl and Muhammad “Fai” Fairoz Rashed serve up ornate tarts, choux, and croissants.

Image: Amber Fouts

A stack of burgundy flour sacks interrupts the neutral minimalism at T55 Patisserie. Bothell’s new bakery takes its name from France’s designation for all-purpose flour. And yet, the stacked bags are actually T45, a softer flour chef Muhammad Fairoz Rashed uses for laminated pastry. “We never thought they would take off like they did,” says co-owner Katie Pohl of her partner’s croissants and pain au chocolat.

But take off they did. Arrive just after doors open, even on a random rainy Thursday, and you might find yourself 23rd—twenty-third!!!—in line. An employee walks the queue, taking coffee orders. Rashed and Pohl intended T55 as an all-purpose kind of place. A permanent home for the ad hoc bakeshop the couple began in the first days of Covid, when they were supposed to be opening a high-concept dessert bar in Chinatown­­–International District. Even that was a detour from Rashed’s real passion: French-style fine dining. Clearly it’s been a long time since anything unfolded as planned.

"The flower" is T55's version of a pain au chocolat.

Image: Amber Fouts

“That is some revolutionary chocolate croissant architecture,” a friend texted after I brought her T55’s version of a pain au chocolat, shaped like a six-petal flower. “What took humanity so long?!” On a good day, Rashed puts out maybe five dozen of these pastries. It takes a few hours just to form the individual petals of croissant dough; each one encloses a pocket of semi-sweet chocolate. A dash of ganache forms the blossom’s center. It’s a feat of both art and science that tastes like a hyper-charged Parisian breakfast. It also solves a practical problem: So many bites of traditional pain au chocolat contain no chocolate at all.

These creations disappear fast. So do the kouign amanns, which Rashed laminates by hand. (Laminating is the laborious process that yields a croissant’s intricate layers of butter and dough.) The shop’s glass case holds maybe a dozen confections, but their breadth is astonishing. Rashed hops from basque cheesecake to chocolate brioche to apple crumble cake. He fills tart shells with pineapple compote, sage gelee, and a dash of caramel on the bottom. On top: a hybrid of meringue and marshmallow that glows like fresh snow. He uses a financier mold to shape T55’s prizefighter cookies—“I need to make sure everything looks the same.”

Rashed makes his hands-on confections in very small quantities.

Image: Amber Fouts

That tendency is a throwback to fine-dining skills acquired in kitchens from France to Singapore. So is the menu, which suits a range of pastry tastes—savory, gluten-free, tropical, textured, chocolate—the way a restaurant might make sure to offer chicken, fish, beef, and pasta.

Waiting in line gives you plenty of time to observe Rashed working intently in his night-colored production room—hair knotted above a thick headband, black T-shirt fitted on his compact frame, hip glasses, even cooler sneakers. It’s hard to imagine there was a time when the only job he could get was at Domino’s Pizza.

Growing up the son of two aerospace engineers in Singapore didn’t exactly smooth the path for Rashed to attend culinary school. He studied food science as a sort of compromise, never imagining it would prove so handy as he mastered the art of laminating dough years later. Eventually, a mix of will and workarounds propelled him to École Grégoire-Ferrandi, a Paris culinary school; he met Pohl, a Bonney Lake native, when she visited a friend in the program.

Rashed builds a pastry case the way he would assemble a fine-dining menu.

Image: Amber Fouts

Rashed came to America with a track record that included the Fairmont Singapore, R&D for a multinational restaurant group, and a stage at uber-prestigious Astrance in Paris. At 19 he even tried out for an executive chef position for a project by Claus Meyer, the foundational Denmark restaurateur who co-founded Noma with Rene Redzepi.

In the U.S., Rashed envisioned a job somewhere like the French Laundry. Nothing worked out, which is difficult to imagine in present-day Seattle, when restaurants must do everything short of requisitioning their elderly relatives to survive our shortage of cooks. Pohl ribs him about the portfolio binder he took with him to job interviews, a Singapore protocol that didn’t translate well to busy American chefs. For the six months Rashed worked at the Domino’s in Shoreline, they kept sending him home early because he completed a shift’s worth of pizza-making duties so quickly.

At Pohl’s suggestion, they started a farmers market business, Susu, to sell rolled ice cream, a technique-heavy dessert trend they’d seen on trips to Thailand. True to form, Rashed made his own ice cream base and kindly declined requests to modify his set combinations of housemade toppings. Pohl tried to nudge her then-fiance toward sweeter flavors: “This is what Americans like.” He in turn rebutted, “This is what I don’t want to give them.”

Get in line.

Image: Amber Fouts

Thank goodness he didn’t underestimate us. The couple gave marketgoers flavors like goat cheese, balsamic reduction, and salad (on top of ice cream, mind you). Suddenly, Susu had a following, a small business loan, and an offer to open a brick-and-mortar dessert shop in Chinatown’s historic Louisa building. Rashed and Pohl envisioned seated dessert tasting menus that would still let Rashed flex his ambition and technique.

Seattle never got to see Susu Dessert Bar as the couple envisioned—it was supposed to open in March 2020. With doors closed and rent due, they started selling pastries out the front window. First, it was crickets. Then, Rashed started baking with durian, the spiky tree fruit that’s beloved in Southeast Asia and hovers on the sweetness scale somewhere near an egg salad sandwich. He used real fruit, not just flavoring. From there, “It all happened lightning fast,” says Pohl. Homesick Chinese customers came for durian pate a choux, durian financiers, and durian tarts. They came back for Rashed’s self-taught scones and kouign amann and those salty, complex cookies.

The couple relocated these baked goods to T55 in hopes they can one day reopen Susu as they intended. In Bothell they hardly ever do durian—“the neighborhood’s not ready for it,” says Pohl. She’s as gregarious as her husband is focused and equally important to T55’s dual citizenship as both pastry cathedral and a neighborhood haunt that remembers its regulars’ coffee orders (ceremonial-grade matcha latte with housemade pandan syrup, please). Rashed might devise the floaty-soft focaccia, tethered by smoked salmon on pesto he made that morning. But Pohl’s the one who asks, “Do you want an edge piece or a center?” when a customer orders a square.

Does Rashed still miss the world of Francophile fine dining? “Every day,” he says emphatically. Pohl has made a few casual inquiries about restaurant spaces, but as in most of their endeavors, she has notes: “I think Singaporean food would do way better.”

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