I’m not solving a medical problem or doing important lawyer stuff, but food makes you really happy.
“We’re in Charleston and I’m working at the ice cream shop,” says Katie Bem, pastry chef and founder of the popular baking blog, katiebembaking.com. “It sounds like I’m not baking at all but I’ve been slowly taking over the baking for the café. Nothing too exciting or extravagant, but I’ve been able to use it as a tasting ground … I’ve started developing ice cream flavors. “
This comment is telling of Bem’s personality and approach to cooking: downplaying the brilliance of what she does so effortlessly. Take her website for instance, “I think it’s just me and my mom that look at it.” The reality is that in a very short while katiebembaking.com has become a go-to for wannabe bakers who can’t follow a recipe in The Joy of Cooking. “I’m so happy about it [the website] … to try new things and teach people.”
Bem got her start in baking at an early age near Portland, Maine. “I worked at a bakery at home. That job wasn’t super crazy or stressful so it was a great learning experience. I was given all the tasks that no one wants to do. That really cemented my love of baking. The woman that I worked with making cakes will be doing our wedding cake.”
After living abroad in Paris, Bem got inspired to go to culinary school. At the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), a lot of people dropped out. People are mean. You have to get used to that to be in this business. “It was a totally a different experience,” Bem added.
During her externship, Bem worked in New York City. “In my head I thought NYC was where I wanted to go. If I go to NYC I could do anything,” Bem said. “I didn’t want your typical fine dining restaurant. I was geared more toward bakery.” After landing a job at Clinton Street Bakery, the real fun began. “It was probably the scariest job I ever had … my boss was very knowledgeable, but teaching was not something she was into.”
I couldn’t talk back. Everything was my fault. I was scared all the time.
Bem says that she was probably excited to go to work 5 days out of that whole summer, but learned so much. “We did a lot of events, because it was the summer, I realized this was totally what I loved doing.”
Fell in love with baking?
For me I’ve always had a weird connection with food. I was very restrictive with my eating in high school so I’d make cakes and cookies and not eat it. But it was an outlet to not think about whatever bad thing was going on in my life.
After realizing that nutrition wasn’t what I wanted to do in college, I just started to bake all the time and realized that this makes me really happy. Everyone has their unfortunate events growing up so that’s what I did to deal with it all.
I’m still going through the acceptance phase of ‘this is what I’m going to do in life.’
What’s your favorite part about baking?
I get to interact with customers every day. It’s such a great feeling. Being able to touch base with people and see how they’re doing.
What’s your favorite recipe?
In college, I started making sticky buns. They take two days to make. It’s from my Julia Child cookbook that my grandma gave me. It’s a sentimental thing that makes me think about her. I make them every year for Christmas. Even though they’re a pain I love making them. And once I mastered that I was like I actually know how to do this. There are so many components to the recipe.
What excited you most about your website katiebembaking.com?
Everything I do can be done by anyone.
I haven’t gone into anything super crazy on the website. People know how to do things without all the fancy terms. Like if I to say, ‘we’re going to do croissants with lamination’ people would be confused, but my fiancé is very honest and tells me no ones going to understand that.