On a recent sun-shot afternoon outside the Manufactory in downtown Los Angeles, a crowd collected around tables loaded with ornate cakes, decorated with fresh flowers, piped frosting and buttercream slogans that read “mind your own uterus” and “no more hangers.” It was a community action meeting masquerading as a high-end bake sale; Michelle Obama meets Antoine Carême.
Around the country, pastry chefs are banding together and throwing old-fashioned bake sales to raise funds for causes they care about. It’s hardly a new model: Folks have been trading cookies for cash and causes — in classrooms, churches and on sidewalks — for decades.
Sherry Mandell, who works with funds- and awareness-raising collective Gather for Good and helped organize the Manufactory event, said the idea for the group “started the night of the election.”
“A bunch of pastry chefs were texting me, crying,” she recalled, including one who tearfully lamented: “ ‘All I know how to do is make really good pie crust.’ ”
Gather for Good, founded by pastry chef Zoe Nathan (Milo & Olive and Huckleberry in Santa Monica) has raised more than $93,000 in small grassroots bake sales, for more than 30 different charities, since February 2017. Mandell, pastry chef Stephanie Chen (Sugarbear Bakes, “The Great American Baking Show”) and others in the food community host events in small public spaces such as parks and parking lots, as well as the cultured butter palace of the Manufactory.
The confections at Gather for Good traced a star map of local pastry chefs, including Nicole Rucker of the recently shuttered Fiona, Lincoln Carson of Bon Temps, Cecilia Leung of Lincoln and Little Flower, Pizzana’s Candace Nelson, Shannon Swindle of the Lucques Group, the Gourmandise School’s Clemence Gossett, the Manufactory’s Leah Chin-Katz and Ivan Marquez of Broken Spanish.
Sherry Yard, for many years Spago’s restaurant and corporate pastry chef, pirouetted in a pink lace dress on chalked concrete. The crowd, a mash-up of shoppers, activists and many of the city’s best pastry chefs, clapped and raised glasses, while others picked out cakes or slices to buy — all proceeds were donated to Planned Parenthood and the Yellowhammer Fund, which helps fund women’s reproductive rights in Alabama. (Cake slices went for $5; whole cakes started at $50.)
Gather for Good raised almost $6,000 that day, Mandell said; its next event was held this month to help support immigrant children held in border camps.
“I can’t believe we have to do this,” said Christine Moore, founder of Little Flower and Lincoln in Pasadena, as she forked up cake at a table on the Manufactory patio. “We’re going backwards?”
A few weeks earlier, Jessica Koslow had convened a lineup of top pastry talent for the kickoff of her Pastry Action Network, benefiting the Yellowhammer Fund and the James Beard Foundation’s Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program.
Koslow’s event included New York pastry chef Natasha Pickowicz, whose annual Manhattan bake sales benefiting Planned Parenthood are the progenitor of the model. This year, Pickowicz’s third hosting the event, she raised $96,000 for the women’s health organization.
“There was something about a bake sale that’s nostalgic, that’s rooted around community and church basements,” Pickowicz said.
They gathered at Sqirl, Koslow’s East Hollywood toast and jam joint. The conceit was similar: a way to convert lemon turmeric conchas and Chinese herbed pancakes into cash for a cause.
It was the inaugural event for what Koslow hoped would be the start of many, with changeable locations, chefs, pastries and causes. P.A.N. sold well-appointed boxes of pastries from Pickowicz; Zoë Kanan (Simon and the Whale, Studio at the Freehand Hotel in New York); Caitlyn Jarvis (Henrietta Red in Nashville); Anna Posey (Elske in Chicago); Jess Stephens (the soon-to-open Onda in Santa Monica); and the Sqirl pastry team of Sasha Piligian, Cat Flores and Krista Hernandez. Tickets for the event, which included a large box loaded with pastries and swag, went for $50.
Koslow had brought the five women — though their gender, she said, wasn’t a requirement; only their skill and commitment — to Los Angeles, putting them all up in a nearby Airbnb.
“We’re all friends through Instagram,” Jarvis said, “but we’d never really met each other.” The group had, by all accounts, an ad hoc sugar-fueled slumber party, then went into production mode.
Weeks after the bake sale, the large white P.A.N. tea towel that Koslow included in the pastry boxes seems a flag not of surrender but of continued, persistent negotiation. And a pretty handy way to transfer breads and cakes and cookies from one woke kitchen to the next.