“Sweet” Inspirations: “BAKED” NYC

Sweet Success:  Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito of BAKED, Red Hook, Brooklyn
Sweet Success: Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito of BAKED, Red Hook, Brooklyn

Perhaps it is with the onset of the Holidays that we begin to ponder about “baking”. Or perhaps it is the cooler weather that leaves us yearning for a sweet indulgence, paired with a sensational cup of coffee. Alas, the baked sweet. Certainly, the Winter months, particularly December (let’s not forget February’s love-fest) is one of the sweetest months of the year. However, every day of the year and each and every month one can find oneself inspired to bake. Inspired, I am. I met “BAKED”. (In fact, my story be told…about a year or so ago, I had stumbled upon an amazing cookbook. Immediately, I was smitten by the presentation of the book and edgy inner pages of brilliant orange dotted with a drawings in chocolate brown of a stag deer head. It was Baked. Sharing my excitement and intrigue, it was a matter of time that the famous duo of bakers, Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito from the bakery “BAKED” in Red Hook, Brooklyn were in our midst in Northwestern Illinois. How thrilled, was I! Add to that, being from Long Island and obsessed with all things New York/East Coast…I was blissfully thrilled!

Last month (November 15th, 2012) Matt & Renato brought their personal story, with a sweet ending, to the stage of the Woodstock Opera House, Northwest of Chicago. As part of the Woodstock Fine Art’s Association’s, Creative Living Series, their presentation was sweet, indeed. Both Matt and Renato brought forth the story and misadventures on how their bakery came into reality. The story they modestly presented was a business model on “How not to start a bakery”. The humor and ease with which they told their story and the humble spirit in which they presented it was simply beautiful. Their straightforward approach, with raw truth and insight of their early struggles and later triumphs, was encouraging and uplifting, especially to those of us in attendance that have embarked upon entrepreneurship. Alas, the joys of owning a business! Rather than focussing on their successes, they shared the ingredients and experiences that came into the mix of their journey as bakery owners. (A journey, I might add, that included an evolution of striking logos, as well!) They presented their story with so much poise, grace and humor. There was not a single attendee in the audience that did not depart with a lighter spirit. (In fact, each guest departed with a decadent sample, shipped from Brooklyn, of a “Baked” “Original Deep Dark Brownie” or a “Sweet & Salty Brownie”. I had both (had to admit) and they were heavenly sinful). “Classic American desserts reinvented”, for certain. With a fabulous modern edge with a delicious twist

Sweet Perfection:   The "BAKED" Trio Of Cookbooks
Sweet Perfection: The “BAKED” Trio Of Cookbooks

Success always has a story behind it. The road is always interesting. It is the journey that makes our journey and reaching our destination that much more interesting. Sometimes bitter and sometimes sweet. “Sweet and Salty”, perhaps. The journey of these “Gentleman Bakers” is one that is certainly continuing as they embark on new avenues and paths with “BAKED”. A “BAKED” success story, indeed.

Perhaps their story is best shared from their own words, taken from their website, bakednyc.com

“…Matt, a producer, spent his days hidden away in a cubicle stuffed with spreadsheets, post-its, and relentless voice mails, while Renato spent his time in the more rarefied field of graphic design (i.e. making things look beautiful so people would buy them). Their thoughts were never too far from cake and coffee. Coincidentally, Matt and Renato met at a glitzy, high-profile ad agency, and slowly (even unbeknownst to them) the idea of Baked was born. Matt wanted to open a bakery that celebrated American deserts beyond the cupcake, and Renato had always had a hankering to open a neighborhood cafe, so together they scoured New York City for the perfect location. They found a small, storefront church in the largely industrialized section of Brooklyn, and together with Rafi Avramovitz, set about building their inspiration. Finally, after many long delays, they opened Baked in 2005 on the shores of Red Hook, Brooklyn with just a few ovens, some mixers and an espresso machine…”

…”Like all great entrepreneurs, Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, bit off more than they could chew. They pursued their dream at all costs while ignoring simple realities like financing (or lack thereof), New York City food service and zoning applications (there are many and they are lengthy), and a business plan (we couldn’t get beyond the first sentence “Open a great American bakery that is not a cupcake shop). Regardless, Matt and Renato trudged forth with a small, enthusiastic team, a few tattered recipes, a dwindling bank account, and endless dreams of cake and coffee. Thankfully, their wide-eyed ambition (for naivety) won out: Baked was finally born in January 2005 in the neighborly neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn.”

Since the bakery opened its glossy orange door in 2005, Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito have since been featured on Oprah, the Today Show, the Food Network, and Martha Stewart. In fact, their first book, Baked, was an IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) award nominee. Recently, to the delight of us all, they’ve teamed up with Williams Sonoma to sell their “infamous baked brownies, brookies, sour cream coffee cakes, and red velvet whoopie pies- all in ready, simple, luxurious ready to make mixes.” Accessible to those of us in the United States, for certain. Alas, if you cannot get to Brooklyn, consider their website to bring “BAKED” to your home. A sweet addition to your cookbook collection, your kitchen and a straight shot to your heart and tastbuds, indeed….

“BAKED” / Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito/ November 15, 2012
“BAKED” : Renato Poliafito & Matt Lewis (and myself….)

Matt and Renato refer to themselves as “Dessert Archeologists”, “digging and researching and eating their way through the regional desserts of America”. Sharing again from their website (I love this part): “They spend a disproportionate amount of their vacation time in bakeries, chocolate shops, coffee houses and used book stores and they spend almost all their discretionary income on cake and coffee and cookies and wine”. That is fantastic. I will certainly attest to their baking skills. A baker at heart, I always appreciate the art of well written cookbooks with inspiring images of delectable creations. The end result is always key, and the results I have had with the decadent deserts I have embarked upon from the pages of Baked’s cookbooks have left me with further inspiration to create the luxurious decadence of “BAKED”, elements of delight. Delicious sweets paired with a love of coffee. Perfection, indeed.

Oh, to see the daily creations stocked in their Brooklyn bakery! In fact, the bakery is certainly on my must-visit-points-of-travel list. Of course! An admitted groupie am I. Not only am I eager to step inside that iconic orange door, but to see, again,the delightful and inspiring bakers! It will be a sweet moment, indeed. Until then, I can occupy my mind on sweet weekly inclusions of interest on their wonderful blog, “The Baking Society”. It is certainly a “sweet read”.

Cheers to baking- with “BAKED”!


PS: Under my Christmas tree this year? I simply must have a pair of those fabulous chocolate brown coffee mugs. And for Santa? A plate of something “BAKED”, for certain…