After four years of working at an ad agency, Dianna Daoheung was at a crossroads. She could either buckle down and make it her career or start from scratch and give her love of baking a go. “As a kid, I would make things that made a mess,” she laughs. “My first cake was out of flour, water and salt.” So she took the pastry path and enrolled at the International Culinary Center.
Daoheung first met Noah Bernamoff when she joined the team as a second line chef at Mile End a month after it opened. When Bernamoff wanted help expanding into a line of Jewish breads, he offered the gig to Daoheung, and it eventually led to Black Seed. “At Mile End, we made Montreal bagels, and I started with that recipe and adapted it,” she says. “At a minimum, there were 20 variations to get here.”
A day at her current gig, Black Seed, begins around 4am, when she lights the wood-burning oven. “No one else is here,” says Daoheung. The First Avenue shop is still new, and she’s working on a 25 percent larger menu than Mile End’s. “As we add more dishes, I want to use nontraditional influences, like sesame oil and ponzu, but I never want to cross the line into an Asian-fusion-Jewish restaurant.”
Of her relationship with Bernamoff and Kliegman, she says, “They’ve come to trust that if I’m being stubborn, it’s for a good reason.” As for her rise, she notes, “I’m not in this to be a world-famous chef. I need someone to hold me accountable. They’ve been the most amazing bosses. They even made me go on a weeklong vacation.”