Curiosity Doughnuts and the quest for perfection

Chocolate crumb super cakes by Curiosity Doughnuts, inside the Whole Foods store in Spring House, near Ambler, Montgomery County.

Sidle up to the counter at the Curiosity Doughnuts stand at the new Whole Foods store in Spring House, Montgomery County. Eyeball the variety, which seems to change by the minute as hot batches arrive off the big fryer.

Everything looks delicious, but what are we looking at here?

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa at Curiosity Doughnuts, set up inside the Whole Foods store in Spring House, near Ambler, Montgomery County.

“Our super-cake doughnuts — the moistest, most delicious cake doughnut,” begins Alex Talbot, for the baker’s dozenth time that morning.

“Cocoa crumb and blackberry here. Then our yeasted doughnuts. Black and white, chocolate yeast, and vanilla glaze. Marbled doughnuts —  we take two doughnuts and we smoosh them together, chocolate and vanilla, they are a marble. These did not exist before we did this. Cinnamon cardamom yeasted. Buttermilk lime.”

They’re $3 apiece.

Why don’t you put out little signs to ID them?

“Because then,” Talbot says with a grin, flicking his hand toward himself, “we wouldn’t be talking.”

Curiosity at the Whole Foods opens at 7 a.m. and is open till sell-out. For now, Talbot and his wife and business partner, Aki Kamozawa, are toying with Wednesdays as a day off, but that is not certain.

They do nothing the easy way.

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Glazed crullers by Curiosity Doughnuts at Whole Foods.

She’s a pastry chef from Queens; he’s a chef from Westchester, N.Y. They met in the late 1990s at the celebrated restaurant Clio in Boston and have led a nomadic life: catering in New York, chefs’ jobs at La Cucina at the Tuscany Inn on Martha’s Vineyard, running a restaurant in Maine.

“Did we go from Maine to Colorado?” Kamozawa asks. Talbot nods.

Colorado was running a boutique hotel and restaurant on a 5,000-acre elk ranch, with private-chef work in the offseason for a family in Montana.

Then came Ideas in Food, a name for their food business, which includes cooking classes. They set up in New York, and chefs started coming to the classes. One asked them to consult at his restaurant in Washington, Kamozawa says. They started consulting and writing books as they moved to Bucks County, and then New Hampshire.

“When we were leaving New Hampshire, we were like, ‘All right, what are we going to do?’ ” Kamozawa says. “We still had the consulting business, but we felt like we wanted a change and wanted to make it more tangible because we’d been consulting at that point for seven years and we want something of our own. As we were driving down, we were talking about it and he said, ‘I want to do doughnuts.’ ”

“I don’t remember this conversation at all,” Talbot says.

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Chocolate and vanilla clusters by Curiosity Doughnuts inside the Whole Foods store in Spring House, near Ambler, Montgomery County.

“I don’t know how he doesn’t remember it, because I was like, ‘Really? You want to do doughnuts?’ ” Kamozawa says. “And he was like, ‘Yeah. I’m really into the doughnut thing right now.’ ”

Doughnuts had always been Talbot’s thing. “We used to go to doughnut places all over, wherever we lived,” Kamozawa says. “It was like a hobby to go check out doughnuts. A lot of times they were dry, or they were too sweet, or all the flavor was in the icing and the doughnut itself didn’t taste good.”

The couple had the germ of a recipe — the no-knead brioche from their first book. They did a presentation at the Culinary Institute of America, hosted by famed pastry chef Francisco Migoya, who was running Apple Pie Bakery.

Migoya served a spread of pastries, including two dishes of brioche. “He said, ‘Try them and tell me what you think,’ ” Talbot says. “And we chose brioche A over brioche B. Well, brioche A was actually our no-knead brioche, but he had modified it. He had put twice as much butter in it than normal.  He called it king’s brioche. And I was like, ‘That’s absolutely brilliant.’ I was like, ‘Well, he proved that we can get twice as much butter into the brioche.’ I put that in my back pocket.”

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Curiosity Doughnuts, set up inside the Whole Foods store in Spring House, near Ambler, Montgomery County.

On their way to that new life in Pennsylvania, they stopped in central New Jersey at the Stockton Market, where they knew the manager, Dawn McBeth. She showed them a space, hoping they would do ice cream. “He said, ‘I could do some ice cream, but it would get kind of boring,’ ” Kamozawa says.

Then fate: They spied a doughnut robot in the back. It didn’t work. Talbot needed to modify it anyway. The conveyor belt had to go. Too easy. His doughnuts “need to be flipped twice, and so they’re a little finicky and don’t respond well to automation,” Kamozawa says. “But I feel like that’s part of their charm.”

Talbot started with a buttermilk lime, developing the recipe from the couple’s second  book, Maximum Flavor, and tinkering with their no-knead brioche dough. “We amped it up,” Kamozawa says. “We added more cream, and more butter, and we just made it richer. And then it turned into the doughnut recipe.”

They opened Curiosity Doughnuts in October 2015.

Curious about the name choice?

“Ideas in Food is about what? Asking questions,” Talbot says. “We’re already curious. I was reading Brian Grazer’s book A Curious Mind, so his curiosity conversations and all that were rambling through my head, and I was like, ‘Wait.’ It just sort of popped into my head.”

For the first seven months till their house sold, Talbot shuttled between New Hampshire and Stockton, where they operate (still) on weekends.

“Stockton is our first place,” Kamozawa says. “We have a lot of loyal customers there. We also didn’t want to take out a bunch of loans. We spent a lot of time consulting and telling everyone not to go into debt to open a business, so we had to kind of follow our own advice. We had been approached by some other people who wanted us to move into their properties, but they were really expensive. When Whole Foods came to us, we thought it was perfect.”

Is there a plan to grow this — will there be Curiosity Doughnuts in … ?

“We’re not sure yet,” Talbot says. “We plan to make today’s doughnuts and then tomorrow’s doughnuts and hopefully there can be a third day after that. We take it one day at a time, mostly. But really, the goal is to change the world with doughnuts. I mean, we’re two people with great help. We believe in karma and the right things happening at the right time.”