More than the basics at this bakery

IRVINE — A punk when she attended University High School here, Rachel Klemek has always been allured by the subversive.

Growing up in the South, and later in Irvine, she remembers not understanding the concept of cooking or enjoying food. Her childhood memories are of sitting in front of the television with saltines or relishing a Styrofoam cup of Top Ramen.

"I didn't even know what butter was," Klemek said.

However, to Klemek, countering her family's own culture — which never revered food — for a life of decorating cakes and perfecting hand-made marshmallows couldn't be more punk rock.

Her business, Blackmarket Bakery, is situated in a non-descript industrial complex by John Wayne Airport. The shop is dedicated to serving what chain markets don't. The Culinary Institute of America graduate bakes an array of goods that you won't ever find in your grocery store, from apricot ginger scones and artichoke, garlic and asiago croissants, to meringue pumpkin tarts.

It all started when Klemek met her husband, David Klemek. Dating at age 17, her then-boyfriend invited her over for their first Christmas together. The day served not only as an introduction to his family, but as the start of a new appreciation for food.

"Whenever you showed up at his house, there was a big spread," she said. "(His father) was always trying to feed you. Events were always centered around not only eating the food, but making the food."

During that Christmas, her foodie father-in-law gave her a gift: a cookie cookbook.

However, Klemek didn't come around to baking immediately. After graduating from University High, she went on to study anthropology at UC Irvine. After UCI, she went back down South to attend The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for a doctorate in anthropology. She quickly realized she wasn't meant to spend her life hiding behind library walls.

"This one guy in my program said, 'Well, either you're on the bus, like you're emotionally involved and you're going to do it, or you drive the bus, like you're a professor, or you just get off the bus,'" she said.

"I was like, wow, OK. I'm getting off the bus."

Klemek decided to focus on her family. At 23, she had her first child, Peter, and two more kids followed shortly after. She let her husband have the career, moving up to San Luis Obispo for his ceramics business. After six years, he got tired of it, and Klemek decided she was ready to reevaluate her own personal career aspirations.

I was trying to figure out who I was," she said.

In 2001, she decided to attend culinary school in Napa Valley. After a year's stint in Northern California, she came back to Orange County and worked at Zov's Bistro in Tustin alongside the acclaimed pastry chef Michelle Bracken.

After selling a house, the Klemeks decided to rent out the space that would become the Blackmarket Bakery, which is now celebrating its sixth year in Skypark Circle. Last year, she added a wholesale side to the business called "Marché Noir" (French for black market), which gives a nod to her time in the wine country by incorporating wine flour into pastas, brownies and other goods.

From the start, Blackmarket has involved itself in the community. Klemek has regularly attended the Irvine Farmers Market, and her followers aren't afraid to give her feedback.

"They tell you exactly what they think," she said. "One guy told me something was insipid once. I was like 'Whoa… I have to work on that.' People will so say, 'Oh I love this' or 'bring this back' or 'change that.' It's good to be out there and talking to them."

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Dec. 18 , Blackmarket will be hosting an open house and sale, giving guests a chance to try their festive pastries, buy a gift for the foodie in their life (tie-dyed chef's jacket, anyone?) or enter to win a buche de Noël for their holiday get-together.

For more information, visit their websites at and

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World