On a blue-sky May morning in Manhattan’s Soho, hundreds of people lined up for hours to buy tickets for the third annual Altro Paradiso Bake Sale to benefit Planned Parenthood of New York. Natasha Pickowicz, the restaurant’s head pastry chef, created the event after the 2016 election to engage with the community and give back to a local organization in a meaningful way. Now, the idea is spreading to other cities.
At Altro Paradiso this year, chefs from California to Tennessee joined stellar New York bakers to offer a lavish array of delectable sweets – and some savories – each item available for five dollars. They hoped to raise $40,000, but far exceeded that goal.
Rebekah Turshen of Nashville’s City House, who tempted buyers with buttermilk cornmeal cookies with sour candied lemon, explained that she had held a similar, smaller sale at home and was planning to expand. Sasha Piligian, in from Squrl, Los Angeles, recalled that when she organized a sale with local bakers to benefit California firefighters, “I was afraid no one would come, but we sold out in one and a half hours. When Natasha reached out, I jumped at the opportunity to connect with people across the country.” Piligian brought citrus from California for her renowned morning buns, which she made in the capacious kitchen at Flora Bar, Altro Paradiso’s upper east side sister restaurant, along with einkorn olive oil cake with brown butter buttercream, honeycomb cookies, and chamomile shortbread.
Connecting and rallying a culinary community was key for Pickowicz who offered to share her insights on the subject:
Feelings About the Day: Personal & Political
“Now that I have had a few weeks to reflect, I can see more clearly what was so special: that it is just one piece of an important conversation about incorporating charitable works into our industry. We are still receiving donations…(and) I’m reading about so many bake sales happening in other cities. Denver, Boston, LA, Austin, Brooklyn. People are walking away from this bake sale buzzing with ideas about how to continue to shape the narrative. Pastry chefs are messaging me on social media saying that they now feel inspired to throw a bake sale in their hometown. And that’s what this was all about! Encouraging other people to express their love of community through their work.
Proclaiming our unequivocal support for women’s rights, especially in an industry that has been problematic and dangerous for women is a very important part of my work. There has been so much momentum following the bake sale, and I hope we continue to pick up speed well into election season. Because the bake sale is political while also being a grassroots love letter to the community and I feel very proud to stand among so many others with the same values and beliefs.”
Building Bridges with Colleagues
“It definitely felt overwhelming to curate such a huge and diverse group of talent, but it was worth it to see us together, in one place. In our industry, we work so hard and put so much time into our work. There is so much sacrifice and solitude. Often, I will go months without seeing any of my colleagues – unless I visit them at their work. Because I invite the same people back year after year, it has become a day we all look forward to, just purely on a social level. It brings me so much joy to see so many talented pastry chefs reuniting…it’s a wonderful chance for our community to come together.”
Suggestions for Bake Sale Planners
“Delegate and ask for help. I had no experience fund-raising when I first came up with the idea for a bake sale. I just knew I wanted to do something for Planned Parenthood. Utilize everyone in your community for feedback and help. I reached out to friends with nonprofit backgrounds, fund-raising experience, and large event planning experience. Have a killer core production team that you can trust and count on. This year the bake sale was orchestrated, not just by me but by three other extraordinary women that I work with. We articulated what our strengths were, and divided up all the work while providing each other with tons of feedback and help along the way.”
Pickowicz concludes:” I love creating and honoring traditions and the bake sale has definitely become a springtime event that we all anticipate with excitement.”