Recently I sat down to give my "about" page a bit of a refresh, and somewhat unexpectedly (because I had been intending on doing this for a long time, and generally stared at a blank page until losing focus) a whole story poured out. I don't think I've ever done this before: wrote about my journey and influences, taken a step back to reflect on how I ended up here and what shaped my interests and passions. Suddenly, it was all on the page and I thought "well, duh." But maybe not "duh," because I don't always share about these things, and the older I get, the more divorced from my beginning I become. I'm sure much of this will ultimately make it's way onto the "about" page, but since it turned out that I actually had something to say, here you go!
Old-world techniques, Modern innovation
My love of baking has been a lifelong journey— but for the sake of brevity, let’s say that it started back in 2007 when I attended Johnson & Wales University for baking & pastry arts. I didn’t know it at the time, but this classical French pastry education completely rebuilt the foundation of my ever-growing love affair with baking, and I learned more than a few things that have stuck with me through the years. Classic formulas, timeless flavors, and a mastery of the main components that comprise nearly all desserts. Above all, I gained an understanding of the science behind baking, the reasoning behind the rules, and the inclination (and ability) to selectively break them. While attending school, I worked as the lead cake decorator for an all-vegan and gluten-free bakery, where I learned innovative and uncompromising ways to accommodate special diets, and again rethink the rules of classical pastries. This juxtaposition of old-world techniques and modern ambitions carries through so much of my work today, but it wasn’t until after I had graduated that I realized where my heart belonged in all this sugar.
Food begins with Farmers... and so I became one (kind of)
In school, I had one chef in particular that impressed on me an idea that grew into an entire approach— quality begins at the ingredients, and the ingredients begin with farmers. Our work, our art, is inseparable. As I moved on from college, this idea took root, and all the sudden I had a new set of interests and curiosities. After graduation, I moved to Bar Harbor, Maine and spent a season making (100+) pies every day, shaping bagels, and climbing mountains by the sea, but I knew that I still had so much more to learn and yearned for a new adventure. Still nearly at the beginning of my journey, I took over a year-long sabbatical from professional baking and began interning on farms. I traveled to Ireland and spent the full-length of my visa living and working on an organic family farm. When it was time to move on (or so said the stamp in my passport), I headed to Spain and spent a brief but impactful time working on an old-world olive orchard, serving as both a farm hand and a personal chef to the family and guests. I harvested produce from a modest garden patch, turned it into meals to share with others, and I found what it meant to create food with love. If I had to pick a single moment, this is why I do what I do.
Food is community, Community is Food
Back stateside, I found a new home in the Pacific Northwest, in Astoria, Oregon. Working at an organic bakery & cafe, I saw my first real example of what it looks like to run an ethically-guided bakery. Our purchasing decisions were intentional, and we worked as a collective, employee-owned business. Happily back in the kitchen, I finally had the opportunity to work alongside farmers to create our menu items. A restless curiosity and adaptability took me into nearly every department of the cafe— from barista, to line cook, to pastries, and ultimately to reviving and running their cake program. For the first time, I truly felt a part of the community that food fosters. I found a new family in my work, and spent my days off volunteering on local farms, foraging for mushrooms, and learning about seasonal produce and the specialties of the PNW. Ultimately, it was time to move on, and I bopped around Portland for a few years, working as a pastry chef, falling in love with eating flowers, and tending my own home garden before finally relocating to Bellingham. Here I started my first fully-edible flower garden and Gathered was born. I had seen glimpses that there was a better way to do things, and set out to do just that.
While still in constant evolution, Gathered embodies all of this— classical French pastry techniques, modern innovation, botanical inspiration, sustainable sourcing, and community support as the compass guiding business decisions. I put my whole heart into my work, and hope to never stop learning.
If you want to learn more about the farms and farmers that I work with to create Gathered goodies, check out my sourcing page and keep an eye out for the next post, all about the language of food politics and my attempt to navigate those waters without feeling like a hypocritical fraud. Yikes!
Between wedding cakes, baking production, and humble gardening ambitions, there's constant experimentation, growth, and a never-ending learning curve. Follow along to see what I'm up to.