Meet ‘the Million-Dollar Palate’ Behind a Flood of New Foods

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Meet ‘the Million-Dollar Palate’ Behind a Flood of New Foods

That’s what she did for Kim Malek, the founder and an owner of Salt & Straw, an ice cream chain whose experimental flavors (pear and blue cheese, strawberry with honey-balsamic vinegar and black pepper) and around-the-block lines wouldn’t exist without Ms. Masoni.

“She has the uncommon combination of being brilliant and completely disarming,” said Ms. Malek, a former corporate marketer who revealed her dream to run a scoop shop over a meal at the Dockside Saloon, the Portland dive where Ms. Masoni likes to take clients. (Ms. Masoni enjoys the hash browns, and the restaurant’s role in the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan scandal: Key evidence was found in its dumpster.)

Working with Ms. Malek on the weekends, Ms. Masoni developed Salt & Straw’s founding flavors, secured connections with local dairies and helped produce the first retail batches in the center’s incubator. She then took the company’s younger co-owner, Ms. Malek’s cousin Tyler Malek, “under her wing,” said Ms. Malek, so he could become a skilled ice-cream maker on his own.

What was most impressive, Ms. Malek said, is that Ms. Masoni could go directly from blue-sky brainstorming — “this is the spirit of flavors and what we want to be about” — to pitch-perfect recipes for ice creams that have become nationally known.

“She’s an evil genius,” Ms. Malek said. “In a good way.”

Ms. Masoni worked similar magic with the Portland chef Vitaly Paley. When he set out to create an energy bar with wholesome ingredients 14 years ago, he said, “I didn’t even know how to start.”

Working only from his description of a target flavor profile, Ms. Masoni blended organic fruits and Oregon hazelnuts to make the Fruity Nut Paley Bar, incorporating a little oat bran to keep it from being sticky. She also helped get the bars onto supermarket shelves by advising on nutrition labeling and other mass-production issues.

The product got “a new life,” Mr. Paley, said, when a buyer for a cheese shop tasted one at a dinner. Now the Fruity Nut bar is also made in attractive slabs that regional grocers sell as an accompaniment for cheese.

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