With August nearly upon us, I thought it best to chat with a local artisan ice cream maker. It turns out Kasey Fechtor has more than just a pint of fresh, homemade ice cream up her sleeve. I spoke with the budding pastry chef about her route from the world of advertising to the kitchen, and what a day in the life of a pastry chef looks like.
Let me get this straight: You worked in advertising, but now you’re a pastry chef and make ice cream? How did that happen?
I was working in advertising when I got an ice-cream maker as a birthday gift. A couple of weeks later, after I had used the machine only twice, a friend of mine sent me a link to an ice-cream competition and encouraged me to enter. I signed up and started working on my first original flavor—orange chai with chocolate chips. I only had a few weeks until the competition, and I was determined to make the best ice cream I could. I would make a base after work, let it chill overnight, and churn it in the morning before heading into the office. It was like having a second job! I should’ve been exhausted, but I was energized. So I continued on, perfecting one flavor after another. My friends, all more than willing to be my taste-testers, would try my creations and say the ice cream was the best they had ever had. Some even wanted to buy pints! And that’s what got me thinking about a career in the food industry.
After setting up some meetings with chefs for advice and receiving positive feedback, Jim Solomon, owner and chef at The Fireplace, asked me what I needed to get started. I said I needed a commercial kitchen, and he immediately invited me in. At that point I started making ice cream for the restaurant, small private parties and some word-of-mouth customers, whom I delivered pints to on my bike. I was looking into opening an ice-cream store but was also becoming more and more interested in learning other parts of pastry. When an assistant pastry position opened at The Fireplace, I was given the opportunity to continue making my ice cream while also growing my skills and knowledge in the pastry department.
I know that bakers often get up before dawn to practice their craft. Is the life of a pastry chef any easier? Take me through a day in your life.
If easier means getting to sleep later, then yes, it’s easier! But instead, pastry cooks sometimes have late nights plating or working catering events. Most days I’m in between 8 and 9 a.m. I walk around with my clipboard, checking inventory to see what we sold the night before. I make fresh whipped cream and fruit compote every morning, but otherwise my days vary. After busy nights, I’ll make lemon cakes, fudge cakes, s’mores pies, cookies, ice cream, tarts, toffee sauce and marshmallows before the day is done. During busy lunch hours, I’ll sometimes help the line with plating. When things are a bit slower, I’ll finish prepping the desserts with time to spare. On those days, I’ve been reorganizing and updating the restaurant’s inventory spreadsheet, putting my Excel skills from my desk-job days to good use. In addition to the restaurant’s dessert menu, there are also catering events, for which we make a bunch of mini desserts, including fudge cakes with raspberries, strawberry shortcakes and peanut butter s’mores cups. The pastry chef and I agree that everything is cuter when miniature—a proverb that also makes me feel better about my height!
When I’m making an ice cream to pair with a dessert, I develop a flavor that complements the other ingredients on the plate. Sometimes Jim or Michal, the pastry chef, will ask me to make something specific. Usually flavors are based on whatever inspires me, which ranges from farmers markets to perfume ingredients to other baked goods. A delicious citrus olive oil cake inspired my flavor lemon olive oil. When it comes to dairy and produce, I strive to use what’s local and in season. Jim also likes sourcing locally for the restaurant’s alcohol. So when we landed on a whiskey ice cream, we chose to use Bully Boy. As for Taza, I don’t use them all the time, but the nuttiness of their chocolate makes it perfect for certain flavors, like honey with chocolate almonds.
When you’re not arms deep in sweets, what savories do you reach for?
It’s funny because, when it comes to eating, I usually prefer savory over sweet. If you put two plates in front of me, one with M&Ms and the other with olives, I’ll reach for the latter without hesitation. I love roasted vegetables—beets, fennel, brussels sprouts, potatoes, cauliflower. And growing up, my mom taught me how to truly appreciate the awesomeness of a big dinner salad, topped with chickpeas and sunflower seeds. While I don’t usually like carb-heavy meals, I can eat pasta like nobody’s business! And though I can pace myself with a can of almonds, give me a bag of Fastachi nuts and you won’t be able to pry them out of my hands.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!