IN PROFILE ANCHOR AT THE OVEN

PAUL GRONDAHL Staff writer
Section: LIFE & LEISURE,  Page: H1

Date: Sunday, November 15, 1992

Chris Kapostasy has her fingers immersed in a bowl of warm, melted


butter.


She dips plump balls of dough into the yellow liquid, rolls the


glistening mounds


through a tray of crushed walnuts and sugar, and plops them into a


greased bundt pan. Kapostasy is making breakaway cake, mostly from memory. It is a recipe handed down orally by her mother, from whom Kapostasy derived a passion for


baking.


It was only later that Kapostasy committed the recipe to print, which


sits on a counter near a flour- splotched stovetop. The recipe is written in


Kapostasy`s large, loopy penmanship, but is so stained and faded from heavy


usage over the years that it is almost indecipherable.


With all the dough balls piled up in the pan, Kapostasy lovingly slides the breakaway cake into the oven.


And she went back to Ohio.


Back to Fairport Harbor, population 4,000, on the edge of Lake Erie,


where Christine Ann Kapostasy, the youngest of 12 children, grew up.


That was a lot of hungry mouths to feed and, despite her parents`


modest income, abundant food and the magic of the kitchen were the glue that


held the family together.


"Food was central to everything in our house," says Kapostasy, whose


mother, Tillie, 76, worked as a professional pastry chef and cake decorator.


It`s no wonder. Kapostasy means cabbage in Hungarian. Stuffed cabbage


was served in the Kapostasy household every Saturday and made an appearance at the WNYT (Channel 13) news anchor`s wedding reception.


"Our house in Ohio was really small, probably 900 square feet,"


Kapostasy recalls. "You walked into the front door and were right in the


dining room. There was no hallway or foyer. The dining room was the center of everything.


"The dining room table was the biggest piece of furniture in the house, and there would always be a relative or neighbor or friend sitting there,


sipping a cup of coffee, munching on a piece of breakaway cake and talking."


One afternoon recently, as Kapostasy bakes in a steamy, redolent


kitchen, Rensselaer County gives way to an Ohio state of mind.


Smell is the human sense most strongly tied to memory and emotion,


researchers tell us, and the sweet fragrance of cake baking in the oven can


achieve the intimacy of childhood revisited for Kapostasy.


Even the cruel parts.


"I was a fat kid. The other kids teased me and called me Butterball,"


Kapostasy says.


Look who`s having the last laugh.


Slender and attractive with a girl-next-door`s wholesomeness,


Kapostasy, 35, has a high profile and a big salary and the kind of telegenic


presence that no amount of image consultants and spin doctors can teach.


She drives a V6 Acura Legend with plush leather seats. She`s got the


kind of elegant wardrobe that is the envy of any working woman.


She and her husband of 10 years, Robert Jansing, 46, a state Health


Department toxicologist in charge of an environmental testing lab, are


building their dream house a few miles away from their current home in North


Greenbush. The center of the house will be a to-die-for custom kitchen.


"I`ve cut out a half bathroom so I can have a walk-in pantry,"


Kapostasy says with a wide smile that reveals white and straight TV closeup


teeth.


Kapostasy has paid her dues. Her rise to the anchor seat beside Ed


Dague has come only after an 11-year apprenticeship at WNYT. She`s slogged


along on her share of dog stories on slow news days. She soldiered on through the unenlightened age of TV when the only women on camera were, as Kapostasy


puts it, "weather girls."


Before broadcast, Kapostasy - who switched her major from


communications to journalism at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio


- worked in print and radio journalism. She grew up in a house where no fewer than five newspapers arrived on the front doorstep.


"We were strict Catholics, but even on Good Friday, my dad turned on


Walter Cronkite," she says.


Her father, Joseph, 81, who worked in testing and sampling for a large chemical company, never finished high school. And yet he recited poetry, read all of Walt Whitman and led the family`s political activism that had Christine leafletting for Hubert Humphrey while she was still in elementary school.


The book currently on Kapostasy`s nightstand currently is "A Bright


Shining Lie," Neil Sheehan`s acclaimed Vietnam epic.


Kapostasy makes no apologies about her passion for baking, this


avocation that other career women who climbed the corporate ladder the hard


way might consider a backward step into the attitudes and social conventions


of the 1950s.


It is in the kitchen, though, that Kapostasy is doing what she loves


best: transforming flour, sugar, yeast, butter and chocolate into bread and


cookies and cake.


And memories, always memories.


"There is just a feeling I get that is very nurturing and warm when I


bake," she says. "I forget about all my worries."


As the jazzy, evocative rhythms of Sting`s "Dream of the Blue Turtles" play over the stereo, Kapostasy is lost in reverie.


As she speaks, she caresses her most prized possession. It is her


mother`s rolling pin, a pro`s rolling pin, long and thin as a police riot


baton, its oak grain worn as smooth as an old penny.


"It`s the best thing my mother could ever give me," Kapostasy says.


"This rolling pin has made more bread and cakes and food than you could


possibly imagine."


Her childhood recollections sound like a touch of Lake Woebegone on


Lake Erie. Kapostasy`s sister, Jean, was the Ohio State Pie Baking Champion


and still has the crown and sash to prove it.


"She could bake a cherry pie," Kapostasy says. "Her secret was tapioca. Our family all knows she got robbed at the nationals."


They picked the cherries for their pies from the trees in "Grandma


Kapo`s" backyard. Kapostasy`s grandmother lived next door and raised pigs and chickens. There wasn`t room for cows, and Kapostasy says her seven brothers


waited thirstily for the arrival of the milkman each day.


"It was all about big family, small town," Kapostasy says.


She remembers fondly the foods she knew growing up in a Hungarian


household.


There was halushka, potato dumplings sauteed in butter and stuffed with cabbage. "Ohhhhhhh," Kapostasy groans over the remembrance. "I would die for


those."


There was cherry soup and stuffed cabbage and homemade bread and


noodles.


For dessert - and this is where Kapostasy`s mother outdid herself


- there was balish, pastries stuffed with apricots, nuts and poppy seeds;


tasty little crepes called palacsintas and the sublime contribution of


Hungarian cuisine, a light and fluffy raised doughnut known as fank.


"I`m determined before I die to create the perfect fank," Kapostasy


says in all earnestness. "To my mind, there`s no more perfect doughnut than


fank. I`ve tried at least 50 varieties of recipes trying to get it right.


Nothing has recreated the fank I remember from childhood. Maybe memory fools


you."


There is a theme that runs through Kapostasy`s memories of growing up. A listener hears the calories racking up with the steady cadence of a


metronome.


"My mom always makes me a seven-layer nut chiffon cake for my birthday every year," Kapostasy says, rattling off a list of all-time cake favorites


from her mom`s repertoire.


"Everything eventually gets back to food," she says.


A visitor to Kapostasy`s kitchen need not question her allegiance to


the culinary arts.


"We had to rip up the old rug in there," Kapostasy says, pointing to a family room just off the kitchen. "I stained it so often with my baking that I had to put Stainmaster carpeting in."


Kapostasy is a let-it-fly baker. On this afternoon, she is dressed in


jeans, Keds sneakers and a white polo shirt.


"I just broke the golden rule when baking with chocolate," she says,


trying to dab away a stain. "Don`t wear a white shirt."


Kapostasy`s dedication to baking is evident everywhere in her house.


There is a Hoosier cabinet, front and center, with working flour sifter and


sugar bin. The Hoosier holds a few dozen of Kapostasy`s more than 100


cookbooks. Its drawers contain a few examples of her antique pie tin


collection. Then there are the brioche molds. "I must have 100 brioche molds," she says.


This afternoon`s mail brings a delivery that has Kapostasy beaming as


if she`s just hit the lottery.


The large box contained 21 pounds of baking chocolate from a mail-order baker`s supply house in Massachusetts. Half of the poundage is Callebaut`s


Belgian semi-sweet chocolate and the other is Peter`s semi-sweet.


"I was in such a panic because I was down to my last 12 ounces of


chocolate," Kapostasy says.


This sends the baker into a lecture about fine baking chocolate. "Now, I`m going to give you a taste of Valrhona, what I believe is the finest


chocolate you can buy for baking," Kapostasy says, slicing a sliver from the


slab and handing it over as if it were a piece of platinum.


I`m about to touch this stamp-sized smudge of Valrhona to my tongue


when Kapostasy stops me. "You shoud have a drink of water first, to cleanse


the palate," she instructs.


I try to make the appropriately reverential ooohs and ahhhs as the


Valrhona disappears in a flash. Kapostasy explains how she uses this chocolate only when she makes truffles or fancy candies, because it`s extremely pricey. "The problem with this," she adds, taking a slice of Valrhona for


herself (much larger than mine, I note), "is that you`ll never be able to go


back to a Reese`s peanut butter cup."


Besides the fancy chocolate, Kapostasy uses fine ingredients such as


Madagascar bourbon pure vanilla extract.


Considering what`s just been baked in Kapostasy`s kitchen - chocolate


raspberry torte, pumpkin pie, shortbread, cinnamon raisin bread, breakaway


cake - and sizing it up against the petite baker, one wonders what`s wrong


with this picture.


"My philosophy is that I`m not into denial," she says. "I have sweets


every day that I`ve made myself, but I`ve trained myself to stop. Everything


in moderation. I figure if I`m going to spend those calories, I`m going to do it on the best dessert I can find."


Kapostasy works off the desserts by playing tennis and in aerobics


classes.


Her dachshund, Hanz, must have similar willpower. He`s remarkably lean for a wiener dog, despite the fact that Kapostasy bakes Hanz homemade biscuits with bulgur wheat, corn meal, rye and garlic. "Garlic keeps fleas away, I`m


told," she says.


Kapostasy feeds the dog a biscuit on the couch while cooing, "Good


Hanzie. Good sweetpea."


Kapostasy and her husband, who do not have children, have 22 nieces and nephews, whom Aunt Chris spoils with gifts of toys and incredibly rich


deserts. And she is a kind of surrogate TV mother to numerous youth projects


she volunteers to assist, particularly her Channel 13 profiles of kids from


single-parent homes for Big Brothers/Big Sisters in "Monday Child."


Kids of her own are very much on Kapostasy`s mind at 35.


"I love kids. I keep saying if I start having kids, I`m going to have a batch. My husband just rolls his eyes," she says.


When she bakes, Kapostasy is reflective and meditates on her future.


"Even though my mother worked when I was growing up, her kids were


everything," Kapostasy says. "I`m very admiring of working mothers who`ve


found that perfect balance between family and job. I`m going to ride the wave of my job for right now. I`ve got the greatest job, but I don`t think I`ll be an anchor at 60 bothering with hair and makeup and all that."


Kapostasy says she does not practice her news delivery.


"There is a lot of coaching that goes on, about how to move, how to


look at the camera, when to look at your co-anchor, but I don`t do any of


that," says Kapostasy, who also does not review tapes of her performance or


make a study of her competition on channels 6 and 10.


"I can`t be Connie Chung or Diane Sawyer or mimic somebody else,"


Kapostasy says. "People can spot a phony a mile away. What you see on TV is


who I am, at least part of me."


Just then, the digital timer beeps and beckons Kapostasy to the oven.


The breakaway cake is done.


"Look! Look! See? See?" Kapostasy says in the echospeak of an excited


child.


She breaks off a steamy chunk and invites me to do the same. It tastes like Kapostasy`s reminiscences of small-town Ohio - sweet and mild and good.


The hour is growing late and Kapostasy needs to get out of the kitchen and head off to do the news. She washes up the baking pans and wipes the flour from the stovetop.


She carefully packs a stunning chocolate raspberry torte - its glaze


covered with perfect rings of fresh berries and at its center a laurel of


delicate chocolate leaves - for me to bring back to colleagues at the paper.


Kapostasy sends a photographer home with a loaf of cinnamon raisin


bread and some instructions: "Now, slice it thickly, with lots of butter,


please," she instructs.