For chef Risa Magid Boyer, adding High Tea to her lineup at Vanillamore in Montclair wasn’t about finding an outlet for a secret scone obsession. Magid Boyer is a CIA graduate who studied pastry and restaurant management. She knew there was a hole in the market, a portion of the day between lunch and dinner that she could capitalize on as pastry chef and businesswoman. Fortunately for diners, what she came up with—a modernized, creative “High Tea” service—fills a schedule void typically reserved for low-key coffee runs and hasty snacking. Granted, “High Tea” isn’t an instant sell to Americans, but Magid Boyer is nothing if not confident when she’s backing a good idea: Vanillamore itself began as a long-simmering concept that finally found its legs in Montclair in 2017, putting desserts first in creative ways (e.g. dessert “Flights,” “Tapas,” even “Dessert Charcuterie”) an intentionally artistic, socially dynamic environment.
We caught up with Magid Boyer to ask about the High Tea program, whether we can expect locavore ingredients to make an appearance, and whether Americans are ready for a British dietary custom beyond fish and chips.
Table Hopping: You opened Vanillamore in 2017 and we reviewed it—well—a year ago. Where did the concept come from?
Risa Magid Boyer: I always knew I wanted to open something, and I wanted to open something different. Around 2014, I started working with a brand developer. She and I scoured the market; we sort of wanted to see where there was a hole in the market that wasn’t a bakery or a high-end restaurant. I wanted something that’s not all about me as a chef, but a recognizable brand, something with a voice of its own.
TH: You added the “High Tea” concept a few days ago. What’s the reception like?
RMB: We’ve gotten really positive feedback, and made some adjustments, so now there’s a really nice balance between sweet and savory. We serve the savory portion on its own first so it’s not all cluttering the table and overwhelming you. And we’re training our staff on how to explain why a tea might go with something. We taste tea pairings during our daily pre-shift meetings.
TH: Why High Tea, specifically?
RMB: We’ve always had tea on the menu. By redeveloping the tea and having something for people to come and enjoy in the afternoon, we can offer them another way to experience what we have to offer.
TH: So it’s sort of like introducing a sixth meal option beyond breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert?
RMB: Exactly. The tea has a taste of our lunch and brunch menus, sort of reimagined as finger sandwiches or biscuits. And on the sweet side, the tea pastries are very representative of the desserts menu. For instance the Cream Puffs on the Vanillamore Flight, they’re individual in our High Tea. It’s a nice way to get a cross-section of all our menus.
TH: What about the “Suggested Tea Pairings” on the menu? There are some surprising choices—Chai, Early Grey “Strong,” something called “Superfruit.” How did you put them together?
RMB: We worked really intentionally to offer tea pairings with every dessert on the menu already, so it was natural for the High Tea. We’ve worked with Tea Pigs out of Brooklyn since we opened. They started in England, but now they’re all over, and they’re awesome. The sales rep we work with and two others from their office came in and tasted our food and said “OK, here are a couple teas that work well.” In fact, we used to offer one pot of tea per service, but now each person gets two flavors [of tea]. That way you can really get a range of flavors in the pairings.
TH: In that way, High Tea almost seems like a non-alcoholic alternative to tapas or small plates and wine. Any chance you’ll get into pairing wine with desserts in the future?
RMB: If I had the opportunity, I’d be doing wine pairings now! If it was something financially or actually available! But we’re in a town where liquor licenses are virtually impossible to get. I know they’re working on a smaller wine and beer license, but we can’t wait for that. We can set ourselves up to be able to transition to that if and when that happens.
TH: Is “High Tea” as a concept hard to sell to an American audience?
RMB: We try to keep it approachable. Our staff is trained to explain each course and the thought behind each bite. It’s really an exploration of our menu, an opportunity to have people experience what Vanillamore is.
TH: Is that why food is served on black slate instead of floral china? Are you rebranding High Tea?
RMB: There are very specific intentions about what textures are in the restaurant. We serve a lot of our food on slate, and the open kitchen has a lot of stainless steel. We didn’t want High Tea to be a traditional, floral, multi-tiered thing. That’s not who we are. And we have such an incredibly diverse clientele. Really, with tea, when it’s not fancy and dainty, it’s approachable.
TH: How about dietarily “approachable”? Do you have gluten-free and/or vegan options?
RBM: Obviously I want to have something for everyone, especially in Montclair! The savory menu has plenty of options, including things that can be adjusted for vegan or gluten-free diets. But we have a specifically gluten-free dessert flight. And two of three parts of our vegan dessert flight are both gluten free and vegan.
TH: Any chance High Tea will showcase seasonal or local product?
RMB: We’re actually having a lot of fun using Harvest Drop to support local agriculture, which is something that wasn’t really at the top of my mind at the beginning. Now that we have everything kind of figured out, we can transition to that—get strawberries within 25 miles and share that with customers, or tomatoes this time of year or corn. We’ll change seasonally, and we’ll run monthly specials.
TH: Speaking of seasons, I’d have to assume High Tea and Vanillamore will be busier as weather gets colder and holiday seasons start up. Any plans?
RMB: We’re sort of figuring that one out as we speak! It’s all a constant evolution, which definitely keeps our regular customers intrigued.
Vanillamore serves High Tea from 2pm to 5pm, Tuesday through Sunday; call to reserve a spot. Vanillamore, 349 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair; 973-707-5373Click here to leave a comment