Today we’d like to introduce you to Rachel Magana.
Rachel, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I started working in the fine dining/hospitality industry right after culinary school. Starting out, I worked for next to nothing just to get my foot in the door and grab the opportunity to learn alongside talented chefs.
I had a lot of experience with strict chefs who drilled in the importance of discipline and organization and my career took me all over the world. I earned a degree in Szechuan cuisine in Chengdu, China, and worked all over the US – New York City, Napa, Chicago, Wisconsin and now Fort Collins.
Each restaurant, hotel, bakery or patisserie I’ve worked in has been a building block that’s led to my success and current role as the Head Baker at Ginger and Baker. I’ve had a few experiences that stick out as monumental points in my career: being a part of a small team where the pastry chef won the James Beard Award for Best Pastry Chef; working as the sous chef for a member of the pastry team competing in the Coupe du Monde (basically the World Pastry Olympics) and getting to root for team USA in Lyon, France; being a member of the last pastry team at Charlie Trotter’s 3 Michelin-starred restaurant before it closed and being an integral part of the opening teams for the restaurants, French patisseries, a gluten-free bakery and an artisan ice cream shop that I helped open and start from the ground up.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
So many sacrifices came with choosing a career in the hospitality industry. Back then, it was hard to find balance and create a healthy lifestyle, professional kitchens were a dog-eat-dog world. I was often one of two women in the kitchen, it was a “boys club” where partying got the other cooks through the day and the pastry department was at the bottom of the totem pole.
I had to fight to be heard or taken seriously. I learned to never ask for help so I wouldn’t be perceived as weak. I learned to dominate the pastry station by myself and develop well-rounded culinary skills with the knowledge that pastry was often the first position cut.
But I did it all to learn as much as I could and pushed myself beyond all limits I thought imaginable to earn a position doing what I love so much every day. I come from the end of an era in the food scene. The places where I worked and spent most of my young career no longer exist. People don’t dine out for 26 courses with wine pairings and make a meal an event anymore. Now diners want comfort, ease and good food, and rightfully so.
I try to honor those bygone restaurants that were my training ground by passing down what I’ve learned to new young chefs. I fight for artisanal hands over mechanical hands and work to preserve classic techniques and skills. What I fight to change are some of the habits and culture of those past kitchens so that this industry can be balanced and offer a healthy lifestyle, while showcasing talent and passion. I strive to push others to excel and help break the norms to include more women while enriching workplace culture and mental health.
Desserts have changed. Dietary restrictions make it challenging. But someone once taught me that everyone has a right to dessert. I think it’s part of self-care and balance. Nothing I make is necessary for daily food intake for your health, but pastry is a treat. A reprieve. A delight. And an adventure. I stand for all of that. And I want to continue preserving the art and the craft of pastry while maintaining people’s passion for the results. That’s the beauty of the human experience.
And not only do I do it for the love of food and baking but also for art form and the discipline. It’s a science and I’m drawn to the ‘whys’ and I practice the ‘hows’.
So, now I try teach the newcomers what it was like and pave the way so that it doesn’t have to be so hard/exclusive/draining for them. To build a positive culture that thrives on the courage and bravery to do the right thing. To be inclusive always. To fight injustice and make healthy changes. All the while creating pastry that provides new experiences or rekindles memories of comfort, home and childhood. That’s the payoff for me.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
I’m the Head Baker of Ginger and Baker in Fort Collins, CO. We specialize in pie but my duties encompass supplying all the desserts and artisan bread for the business – from the Bakery and Coffee Shop to the Teaching Kitchen, the homestyle Café, Colorado-style dining in The Cache, plus two Event Spaces that host numerous weddings and parties, plus offsite catering. Everything from freshly baked sourdough to handmade pies, to high-end desserts to pie bites to satisfy hundreds of people.
I oversee a staff of 12 bakers and hope I am known for both my pastry skills and my people skills. I am so proud of my team and work to help them as individuals and talented professionals. Meanwhile, they support me and help keep the bakery working like a well-oiled machine.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My mom always made a big deal for birthdays for me and my sister and would make us anything we wanted. My sister always wanted crazy tye-dye colored Hello Kitty cakes, but my favorite was her recipe for chocolate mousse cups. My Mom would hand paint cupcake liners with chocolate, then fill them with a Kahlua chocolate mousse with whipped cream on top. We even had the recipe published in a cookbook for my elementary school.
I’ve turned that memory into a chef’s special pie here at Ginger and Baker – chocolate Oreo crust, Kahlua mocha mousse and fresh whipped cream on top. My mom and her nostalgic cooking is always where I draw inspiration from.
- Address: Ginger and Baker
359 Linden Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
- Website: https://gingerandbaker.com/
- Phone: 970-223-(PIES) 7437
- Instagram: @gingerandbaker @Brickel516
Ginger and Baker