Thursday, August 28, 2008

If you want Real Food, You Have to Find the Blackmarket

I follow the sweet heavy scent of buttery brioche, thick dark chocolate brownies, and savory focaccia to the farmers market stall of Blackmarket Bakery. The plastic packets of pastries and bread still hold the condensation and heat that denotes freshly baked fare, but what is most addictive about these treats is what I don’t find on the ingredients label: no shortening, no artificial flavors, no preservatives, no crap.

Baker and owner, Rachel Klemek, is adamant about that: “My father-in-law bought a cake from the grocery store recently, and the list of ingredients on that thing was 4 inches long with a .5 font! I’m like ‘what is this stuff and why do we need it?!’ Everything we made in culinary school used real food. I know that’s what I want my kids eating, and it tastes better too.”

Although I love the bakery’s focaccia pockets filled with eggplant and asiago, or crimini mushrooms and cheddar, cakes are Rachel’s bread and butter (pun fully intended). They come in combinations unheard of on supermarket shelves, like toasted hazelnuts, raspberries and dark chocolate ganache, or coconut buttermilk cake with fresh mango, passion fruit syrup and coconut buttercream.
Rachel and her team can artistically sculpt almost anything out of cake and fondant- which she says is the hardest part of the job, but also the most creatively rewarding. She’s not stingy with her expertise either, and teaches small hands-on classes to adults and children which can be tailored to their interests, or structured around a theme like Rustic Fall Desserts or My Grandma’s Southern Sweets.

Blackmarket Bakery appeals to my rebellious side, at least if rebellion is defined as eating well despite trends to the contrary. After she attended the Culinary Institute of America (also known as “the CIA,” though Rachel denies that she is a ninja-spy-baker) and landed a few jobs, she decided to open her own bakery—just as the Atkins diet hit.

“The whole country was like ‘bread is going to kill you, let’s eat bacon,” she recalls. Instead of letting that deter her, Rachel let the fad diet and the punk rock music she was listening to become the inspiration for her bakery’s name and logo. She set up shop in an industrial park in Irvine, CA, and hauled her breads, cakes, cookies and focaccia to Farmers markets around Orange County and built up a cult following of people who appreciate real food.

As I approach the table eyeing the brioche, I overhear the large rugged man next to me cheerfully admit to Rachel that he “can’t go a week” without something from her bakery. I’ve heard that secret handshakes denote members of some underground societies—but for us Blackmarket Bakery disciples, it’s the pastry crumbs down the front of our shirts that give us away.

For information on cakes and classes, call Blackmarket Bakery at 949.852.4609. Check out their site to find their Farmer’s Market locations: