Engineering taste

Kayak Kafe focuses on convection cooking, fresh ingredients

Brendan and Mallie, co-owners

(a+b)(a-b)=a²-b². Mallie Clark and I are talking math. He’s a Gulfstream engineer and one of two co-owners of Kayak Kafe.

“It feels really good when you can get a point across, when you can see it click in their head” he says while discussing volunteering as a tutor for basic math through calculus III. I don’t remember where I learned how to use the opening formula to square two digit numbers in my head, but I wanted to get it across to Mallie and see it click in his head.

Instead he smiles and says, “What I would be interested in is: How does it work with any two numbers? Can you make that equation work with 39x57?”

I’m stumped. I’d been so locked into my narrow “Look what I can do!” view of the equation that I hadn’t thought about how it worked.

“If you bust your ass and get the job done than you can do whatever you want. But if you screw it up you’re not going to be able to do what you want anymore,” says Brendan Pappas, the co-owner who runs day to day operations at Kayak Kafe. We’re discussing his management style.

“I let them self-regulate until there’s a problem,” he continues. Does this style occasionally lead people to try to take advantage? Sure, but Kayak Kafe has a good staff.

On those few times when he’s had to crack down? “I swear to God that I’m only helping you by busting your balls right now.” Brendan quotes himself about how he’s tried to expand his employee’s worlds by communicating to them the importance of developing a good work ethic early in life.

The two have been friends since they went to second grade together on Tybee Island. “It’s not the guy you’ve known for a couple of years that you may or may not trust,” Brendan says.

Mallie jumps in: “He does the managing. He does the people stuff. I look at the cost. It’s a good mix having two people, plus someone you can really rely on to.”

As I listen to them talk with such enthusiasm about their restaurant I find myself almost wanting to start working in kitchens again.

Since Kayak Kafe is at the front of the building that houses The Downtown Athletic Club on Broughton Street, I walk through the dining area several times a week on my way into and out of the gym. It always smells great. The waitresses are inevitably cute, smart, and smiling.

This time I had the $12.00 Watermelon, Wild Georgia Shrimp, Feta and organic greens salad. It’s tossed in a lime-vinaigrette. Brendan is still angry that Connect Savannah readers hadn’t voted a Kayak Kafe salad Savannah’s best for 2007.

“We’re more expensive but we’re worth it,” he says. “The whole allure of this place is the food. You can’t get it anywhere else. When you go to dinner usually it’s the social event of going out to dinner. When you go to lunch you’re hungry. And you’ve got a limited amount of time as well. People should be able to come in have something that’s really good with fresh ingredients.”

All cooking is based around roasting in a $6,000 convection oven. There’s no deep frying, no sautéing to order, no grilling.

The kitchen’s tiny. Brendan’s made that a positive. Lack of storage space forces him to buy food fresh daily; therefore as Brendan says: “We don’t prep every week. We prep every day. It’s as close as you can get to prepping to order.”

My lunch reflects that. The salad is vibrant, the greens crisp, the pink shrimp tender and flavorful, the watermelon a sweet deep red. The flavors mesh well. It’s $12.00 well spent.

As our interview ends I asks Mallie how he thought about numbers: “A number is just a way to realize what’s here”, he says.

As an example he asks me how long our table is. “27 inches long,” I answer.

He rephrases the question: “Tell me exactly how long this table is.” Quickly I am frustrated, stubborn: “26 ¾ inches long,” I answer.

I’m not getting his objective. He takes my recorder and measures the table to 5.95 recorder lengths long. I laugh. Once again I have been so caught up in my narrow view that I fail to see what was right in front of me.

I come back later to measure the table. It’s 2.14 Connect Savannahs, or 4.46 $5.00 bills, or exactly 26 ¾ inches long. As I walk home I place 39x57 into the equation. It doesn’t work. I’ve been unable to figure out why not.

If anyone out there has an explanation or an adaptation might you be so kind as to share it? I’d like to get that switch fully clicked in my head, and then see if I can pass on an explanation to Mallie, Brendan and anyone else who enjoys realizing what’s right here in front of us.

To square two digit numbers in your head using the formula: (a+b)(a-b) = a² - b²

For our example let’s use 47 as the number we want to square. Therefore in our equation,

a = 47

To simplify multiplication we round 47 up to nearest factor of 10. In this case 50. In order to do that we added “3” to “47” so in the equation:

b = 3

And therefore after substitution the whole equation reads:

(a+b)(a-b) = a²-b²

(47+3)(47-3) = 47² - 3²

(50)(44) = 47² - 3²

2200 + 9 = 47²

2209 = 47²

Kayak Cafe is at One East Broughton Street. Call them at 233-6044. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon-Fri.

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