Black Cypress keeping it ‘good and old-fashioned’

Maria Hoffman, co-owner at Black Cypress, uses her Brazilian background and the seasons of the Palouse to create her dishes.

REBECCA WHITE, Evergreen managing editor

Black Cypress, a Mediterranean and Greek restaurant in the heart of downtown Pullman, takes inspiration from the seasons of the Palouse and the experience of its chefs.

Patrick Hoffman and his wife Maria Hoffman have been the owners of Black Cypress since January, taking over from founding owner and chef Nikiforos Pitsilionis.

As the current head chef, Maria Hoffman takes much of her inspiration from the training she received from Pitsilionis, the seasons of the Palouse and her background of being raised in Brazil.

“My whole life basically, I don’t remember myself not cooking,” said Maria Hoffman. “I had a connection with food since we’ve traveled so much and I had a huge international influence in my Brazilian environment.”

Part of Maria Hoffman’s family came from Italy to Brazil to escape from the World War I. The tastes of the Mediterranean are a part of her Portuguese, Brazilian and Italian heritage.

“All of that Mediterranean influence was always very present and natural for me to be working with and to be tasting it and to have it be a part of my life,” Maria Hoffman said.

She said another influence in her life as a chef was the training her mother gave her. Maria Hoffman was always the prep person in her family’s kitchen and had all the basic skills she needed before coming to culinary school and getting her first chef job at 18 at an Italian restaurant.

Patrick and Maria Hoffman put an emphasis on being creative at the Black Cypress. Maria Hoffman follows the best chefs in the world and takes certain ideas from the recipes and many of their kitchen and bar staff receive training as well a constant supply of culinary books to keep them trying new things.

Maria Hoffman said part of the creative process is using what is in season on the Palouse. When training a new employee or trying to get a chef to make something new, she encourages them to look in the freezer and see what is possible.

“We’re extremely in-tune with season and what’s happening right now in this area at this moment,” Hoffman said. “We’re connected to the people that are bringing these ingredients to us and using and cooking the best with that ingredient at its best.”

Patrick Hoffman, who spends more time working in the front of house, focuses on the quality of service and product as well as developing old-fashioned cocktails based in local ingredients.

“We’re not so much into the alchemy of it (cocktails),” he said, “but just like the basic tone of the whole restaurant. We like to do these things well and we’re not trying to be too extravagant or pretentious in what we do behind the bar.”

Lars Lunstrum, a bartender at Black Cypress, said that at most of the restaurants and bars he’s worked at, employees are asked to stick to the script.

“It’s a very creative endeavor,” Lunstrum said. “We’re lucky here, they encourage creativity and it’s always been that way. It’s a very special place.”

Hoffman first trains her employees to meet Black Cypress’ standards, and then asks them to take inspiration from their background.

“I ask the person where they came from,” Maria Hoffman said. “That’s my background and how I find inspiration every single day. I go back and look at my past and how I am here today. The creativity comes from that.”