Sarah Chisholm believed that her past careers as a ballerina and pastry chef had some things in common.
âThere is so much discipline in baking and dancing,â she said a few days before Thanksgiving. âThink of leaven. There is a commitment and a process to go from yeast and salt to a crusty loaf of bread. In ballet, it’s all about the process and the repetition of the technique. In both cases, there is a good correlation between the effort and the result.
Some of Chisholm’s friends have said it differently. “The joke became that as a hungry ballerina I was dying to eat carbs and butter, which is why I got into baking.”
In fact, it was a nasty leg injury, not stifled hunger, that sidelined her professional dancing career and led her to become a pastry chef. His boss friend Aaron Chamberlin took Chisholm to a new level.
“He told me that I was a good baker and that I should think about doing it for a living,” recalls Chisholm. âAaron offered me a job as a lower level baker at the Phoenix Public Market CafÃ©. I studied with Pastry Chef Katherine Dwight and evolved from a cookie scoop to more responsibility.
Soon after, she left Phoenix and traveled across Europe, working in kitchens and learning new baking tricks. When Chisholm returned to the valley, Chamberlin offered him a position as executive pastry chef at the Phoenix Public Market CafÃ© and his popular St. Francis restaurant.
Chamberlin closed the cafe and sold St. Francis, and Chisholm, who is married to local restaurateur Aric Mei of The Parlor pizzeria, decided she wanted more than just another pastry chef gig. Earlier this month, she launched Wild Rye Baking Co., a direct sales cake mix company. Customers can order cake, pancake and icing mixes made from higher quality ingredients than what Duncan Heinz uses.
âAn online bakery business is really just a way to reach more people than a physical store would,â she explained. âI wanted to create an online baking community, but my community is spread across the country. I went to art school in North Carolina, I danced in South Beach, Florida, I live in Phoenix.
She was interested, she said, in telling people in all of these places – and beyond – that they could do better than Duncan Hines.
âOur childhood cake mix is ââdelicious, but some ingredients are things you wouldn’t admit serving to your dinner party. I reinvented simple baking recipes by reverse engineering them. So with my olive oil cake I wanted people to be able to make it at home, but I knew they weren’t going to have perfectly tempered eggs or maybe the best oil in it. olive. It took a lot of tweaking to get them together, so you ended up with a restaurant-quality cake on the table that came from a mix.
She was worried that people would eat powdered sugar and Crisco cake frosting, and she wanted to change that. âI understand that you want to cook something even if you are not a baker, because it looks like something special and festive. But then you take a mixture, and it’s made with preservatives, and you add canola oil, and you icing it with vegetable shortening, and then what? I feel like I’m cheating.
Chisholm likes to think that she is helping people mend their relationship with indulgent food. âI hear people say, ‘I’m not eating this anymore because I know what’s in it,'” she said. âI get it. I saw an ad for Cheetos’ boneless crusted chicken wings and I was like, ‘How’s that food?’ But we limit ourselves when we cut out the indulgent foods altogether.â
Wild rye was different from cooking from a recipe, Chisholm said, because a recipe is unresponsive.
âI can talk about baking all day,â she admitted. âIt’s my favorite thing. I could have just opened a bakery, but I would have been in the back all day, not telling people about the hows and whys of baking. And the how and the why are almost as important as the outcome of your cake.