Culinary Spotlight: A Baker's Dozen
Meet 13 women who bring incredible talent to a part of the O-town table that is dominated by men no more.
The story of cooking has always been about women. Almost every prominent chef tells tales of sauces stirred and breads baked during days spent at his or her mother’s elbow.
The women who have brilliantly embraced the baking, dessert and pastry realm in Orlando started in the culinary field and eventually found their passion in baking, or went into it as a business first, or came from different fields altogether. All have brought undeniable talent and creativity to the mostly male-dominated territory of the professional kitchen.
We gathered five business owners for a conversation about the pressures, joys and realities of rising to the top of the baking game. And, in the second part of this feature, we got the thoughts of eight of Orlando’s best pastry chefs about their culinary passions and what it means to be a woman cooking among the guys.
(From left) Janice Brahm Talty, Trina Gregory-Propst, Celine Mariah Duvoisin, Evette Rahman and Stacey Tomljenovich (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
Around The Table:
Celine Mariah Duvoisin—Valhalla Bakery
Owns the vegan Valhalla Bakery at Market on South, and Valkyrie Donuts near UCF. valhallabakery.com
Trina Gregory-Propst—Se7en Bites
Owner, baker and local food icon since 2010. se7enbites.com
Stacey Tomljenovich—P is for Pie
Making sweet and savory artisanal pies since 2015. crazyforpies.com
Evette Rahman—Sister Honey’s
Won her first APC National Pie Championships “Best of Show” in 2014, with two more wins and eight gold ribbons since. sisterhoneys.com
Janice Brahm Talty—Olde Hearth Bakery
Talty and her husband, Shannon, originated the Orlando artisan bread movement in 1998. oldehearthbreadcompany.com
In the kitchen of the Edible Education Experience, the conversation started with both greetings of friends and introductions among those heretofore known to one another only by reputation.
Celine Mariah Duvoisin: This is a table of awesome women.
Evette Rahman (to Celine): My son is an unbendable vegan so he has your doughnuts. He won’t eat any of my stuff.
Trina Gregory-Propst (to Evette): You are the epitome of who started the trend of bakeries. You were here before any of us. I think bakeries in general in the South—
Celine: They were an afterthought. Every other city had a dessert thing, and Orlando didn’t.
Joseph Hayes: Janice, when you started Olde Hearth, artisanal bakeries in Orlando were nonexistent.
Celine: You’re the only bread game.
Janice Brahm Talty: Well, not anymore.
Celine: Okay, you’re the only mentionable bread game!
JH: Is what all of you are doing a conscious decision, or was there somewhere else you wanted to go, and instead you became this person?
Janice: I was a career student; I went to college for a lot of years. I went to the culinary program at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale because I wanted to learn how to cook. I’m very emotional, so I was going to be a risk getting into a kitchen where someone was going to be screaming at me all the time. Somebody suggested baking.
Trina: Did we plan to be a full service bakery and a restaurant? No, that has grown itself over the last four years, but it also has to do with … to be honest, everyone sitting at this table, none of us are spring chickens …
Trina: It’s true, though! I’d already worked for other people for 17 years. At the end you make that conscious decision, I’m not working for anyone else again. It’s hard enough to work for yourself. I’m also at that stage where I don’t want somebody telling me what I can or can’t do.
Evette: My mom used to bake a lot; I was attracted to that. Then I entered the pie contest and thought, people actually liked that. It gave me the confidence to open a bakery. A lot of things I make in the bakery I had never made before; it just evolved. If you have a passion, sometimes it works out. When I’m on my feet for 12 hours I always say to myself, my parents did it, I can do it. You get strong.
Stacey Tomljenovich: My husband and I were tired of the game of working for somebody else and decided we’re either going to do this, or we’re never going to talk about it again. When we bought P is for Pie, it was location and product, but we knew that we could do more with savory and different flavors. We now have over 25 different savory hand pies, every day, so that’s how we’ve come to make it our own. Not every flavor every day, of course.
Evette: Do people come into your bakery with a list of everything you make?
Stacey: That’s the killer. They look online and they come in with this list and go, “I want one lime coconut cutie pie, and one of this and one of that—no, that’s not how it works. If you want to order—
Celine: And you can’t order one of each thing—
JH: Why baking?
Evette: That’s all you know how to do.
Stacey: I just love it.
Trina: I went to culinary school, and at the end of the program they require you to take a Baking 101: Every chef should know a focaccia, a biscuit, a cookie, just so you can identify them.
Celine: Like they have to teach you, THIS is a cookie.
Trina: And when I took that class, I realized, it’s very black and white. Baking is right or wrong, it’s scientific.
[Sounds of agreement from everyone]
Trina: The exactness of it, the challenge … if I change this, what else can I use. It’s the thought process going through your head on a daily basis. That’s the thrill of it.
Celine: It’s problem solving. And loving the science of it.
JH: Does being a woman lend itself to that way of thinking?
Evette: Some people are built like that, for precision. My husband, who doesn’t claim to be a baker, is more precise than me, so it’s just the personality.
Janice: I don’t feel that being a woman makes me any better at baking than my male coworkers—I think it makes me a better boss.
Celine: When I was with Publix, the management was always male. On the labor side it was always women who did all the fine finishing, to make sure everything was pretty, and esthetic, and consistent.
Trina: The reality is that women are normally the caregivers, and baking is considered a comfort, caregiving thing. And so women should just be good at it. Was it that way when I was growing up? Absolutely. My grandmother got up every morning and everyone would have biscuits and eggs, and by lunch she was already planning the evening meal. It was part of how I grew up, so I didn’t know the technical aspects of it, but that’s what turned me on. But it also takes being able to run a business, and science, and math.
Stacey: I’m going to throw a little wrench to that. My son … both of my boys work for us. He does the hand pies, understands it, knows it better than everybody else. He’s 21.
Celine: But he was raised by you—
Stacey: He has that desire to do it. He owns it.
Trina: We have 32 staff members and only eight are male. If we were men, we would still be as passionate about our job and what we’re doing.
Celine: And we wouldn’t be seen as bossy women when we state our minds.
Celine: We’d be powerful and assertive.
Trina: I think that if you look at the common thread between everyone sitting at this table, it is that we are that hustler type person. If it wasn’t baking it would be inherently something else just as successful.
Janice: We’re not just baker girls; we’re business owners. We all have an identity, we all make different things.
Trina: And there’s so much room for everyone.
Stacey: If I can’t do something, I’m referring to one of you …
Trina: I tell people, I don’t do vegan, but here’s where you can get it. I totally send business other people’s way because I know how you run your business. (To Evette) I’ve eaten your pies, your red velvet is my son’s favorite, he likes yours better than mine, and I’m okay with that because what you make is an amazing product.
Celine: And you’re not going to step on anyone by creating something that somebody else is known for. Unless I specifically get permission, I’m not going to go after an item that is your signature.
Clockwise from foreground, Orlando magazine dining critic Joseph Hayes talks shop with Tomljenovich, Rahman, Talty, Gregory-Propst and Duvoisin. (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
JH: What advice would you give to a young baker looking to enter your business?
Trina: Do it for a little bit first.
Celine: Learn what you’re doing, and have four times the amount of money to start up than you thought you’d need.
Evette: Don’t dive into a high overhead, because you’re going to sink.
Trina: Realize the impact this job will have on your family.
Celine: If you are the only thing in this business that is holding it together, you can never grow beyond that.
JH: What has been the big surprise?
Trina: I was not expecting growth as quickly as it came, as hard as it came. I’m pretty sure as women this is a very common thing. I think we’re our own hardest critic.
Evette: Maybe we’re a little more picky, we’re more particular.
Celine: It’s that exacting, making sure the product you’re putting out is something that you would eat and you would supply to your family.
Stacey: It’s the relationships that is the biggest surprise, not only here, but with my customers that have now become—
Trina: Our business is like our baby, so it is our family.
Celine: The diversity of the people you meet are people you wouldn’t have normally met in your life, so the strangers that are passing through your life then become your friends. I’ve made connections that I never would have had access to before.
Evette: Good customers get you through the hard days.
In the Kitchen
Six talents create memorable pastries on a special day. Plus, the sweets mavens at 4 Rivers and the Grand Bohemian dish on desserts.
THE Osprey Tavern held a Pastry in the Park event last fall, with a dessert-centric menu focused on the talented chefs of area restaurants. Six of them talked about their profession, and the works of art they created for the day.
Kristy Carlucci—The Osprey Tavern/Seito Sushi/Reyes Mezcaleria Adjunct professor at Valencia College. Studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York before coming to the Osprey kitchens. kristycarlucci.com
“I like to have people taste my food before they know who made it. I think having more women in the kitchen brings a sense of femininity, a little bit of softness. The kitchen has been such a rough and gruff place for so long. As a woman you have to be even tougher because you have to prove yourself no matter who you are.”
Autumn Harvest: Pumpkin ganache, sweet potato doughnut, candied butternut squash, blond chocolate Dulcey crumb, oatmeal semifreddo. “I don’t shy away from the pumpkin spice, and I like using vegetables in dessert.”
Amy Gilbert—Canvas Restaurant & Market
From hobbyist to Le Cordon Bleu graduate to master of the sweet kitchen at Canvas. canvaslakenona.com
“I learned the savory side first, then I discovered I loved pastry. They used to say that a woman’s place was in the kitchen, but it ends up being more of a man’s world. It’s not for everybody. In some cases you have one chance to get it right. … On the line you can make things on the fly. It doesn’t work like that in the pastry world.”
Mulled Red Wine Pear Galette: Poached pears in red wine, citrus mascarpone mousse, spicy pistachio granola, baked pistachio merengue kisses. “It looks like ice cream without the drippy mess.”
Michelle Hulbert—K Restaurant
Attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts on the savory track. krestaurant.net
“I studied the culinary program, but I found I had a knack for pastry. I think of myself as a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen. It’s a hard atmosphere; a lot of the girls I went to culinary school with have quit. So you have to have a pretty thick skin. But we’re family; we help each other out.”
Chunk of Love: Layered chocolate chunk cookie, Oreo truffle, dark chocolate brownie, hand-made peanut butter cups. “All of the elements are my son’s favorite things.”
Amanda McFall—Urbain 40
One of the finalists in the Orlando Signature Dish competition. urbain40.com
“I got a job at a bakery, and I loved it so much that I entered Le Cordon Bleu. They didn’t have a pastry program at the time, so I went for savory—it was Class No. 7, that’s how early I was. I want to work with pastry; I’m not here because I can’t work on the line. We have a guy right now starting in the kitchen, and to see him work with bread and pastry, he has the touch—men can do it too. But seriously, being a woman in the kitchen doesn’t matter. It’s the same as being a man in the kitchen. It depends on the person.”
Nights in Casablanca: Tahini custard, orange blossom figs, almond milk granite. “I went to the Turkey and the Wolf sandwich shop in New Orleans. I saw they had soft-serve ice cream with tahini and dates, and that inspired me.”
Gloriann Rivera—1921 by Norman Van Aken
Another savory graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. Worked at Luma on Park before joining the team at 1921. 1921nva.com
“Being in the kitchen is hard. Men tend to take charge, but we can take charge too. We now are stepping it up, and want our voice and our art to be shown. We have more availability to be creative on the pastry side.”
Bananas Foster Tart: Toasted merengue, pecan tart shell, banana curd, smoked bourbon chocolate custard, banana semifreddo. “I wanted to make something that people would think is so simple and then wow them.”
Esther Rodriguez—The Ravenous Pig
Her dessert path began at Cask & Larder. theravenouspig.com
“I wanted to do this from the start. It’s great being a woman in the kitchen. You work with a lot of characters—mostly men—but I feel very respected; they’re like my brothers. I don’t feel like they’re the chefs and I’m just the cake girl.”
Cheese Tart: Smoked tart dough with spent grains from the Cask & Larder brewery, Green Hill Cheese panna cotta, persimmon gastrique, pink peppercorn meringue. “It’s still a dessert but more on the savory side.”
Not at the Pastry in the Park event, two chefs who have influenced the sweet side of Orlando’s culinary scene have unique interpretations of their profession.
Andrea Zelen, director of bakery operations at 4 Rivers Smokehouse, has had a direct effect on the local baking community in her previous role as department chair and pastry lead instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. She was the first woman to hold a lead instructor position at the college and led the education of many of her fellow bakers. 4rsmokehouse.com
“Personality traits that make for a good baker—attention to detail, patience, level of concentration—tend to be female. The pastry brain and the culinary brain are very different. Savory chefs like the last-minute rush, where things have gone wrong and you can still throw something in to rescue the dish. Bakers have to experiment before it goes in the oven. As women, we live our whole lives that way, we plan our adventures, we make lists. When I first started it was very different, I definitely felt like a woman in the kitchen. But it made me who I am, a better chef, because I became stronger. Now it’s much more accepted; at 4 Rivers I’m just another person in a kitchen.”
Catherina Trippett, lead pastry chef at the Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, was educated in the baking arts in Holland and has also cooked for the Rosen and Gaylord Palms resorts. kesslercollection.com/bohemian-orlando
“My grandfather had a business in Holland; that’s where I started learning about baking and pastry. But my parents told me that [unlike America] it was a man’s profession and I should be a teacher or something. I kept pursuing it, at hospitality school in Rotterdam, and then as an exchange student in America. In the bakeries where I trained in Holland, I would be the only girl in the kitchen. They would have competitions—how many bags of flour can you carry. But they were good to me, and it made me tough. I focus now on desserts for our brunches, themed desserts and petite pastries, and playing with different textures and flavors. When young women come to me, I tell them don’t give up, follow your passion. So I guess I am listening to my parents now, and teaching about something I love to do.”