On Sticky Gooey Cake and Other Baked Goods: an Interview with Ovenly’s Erin Patinkin, Agatha Kulaga and new addition Shuna Lydon


We’ve long been ardent fans of Ovenly’s sweet and savory, spicy and nutty, Eastern European-styled treats (black caraway shortbread and blue cheese-pecan scones, hello). So it’s especially exciting that one of our favorite Manhattan-based pastry chefs — Gramercy Tavern and Peels alum Shuna Lydon — has joined forces with Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga, the Greenpoint bake shop’s endlessly creative and energetic owners. We spoke with the newly assembled dream team about what we can expect from their powerhouse partnership, the inevitable expansion of the Ovenly brand, and whether or not Lydon’s infamous Sticky Gooey Cake has finally found a permanent home in Brooklyn.

Erin and Agatha, you created Ovenly together, and have been the joint face of the business ever since inception. What made you decide to bring on another executive-level member at this stage of the game?

Actually, Shuna is our fourth executive team member! She joins a team that consists of Marianne Hamilton (whose focus is retail operations and who joined us in June 2013; her background is extensively in project management in advertising). We will still act as the face of the business and get our hands plenty dirty with a lot of work (inside of and outside of the bakery), but we came to a point where the two of us couldn’t do it all on our own. To grow our business, we needed other talented people with unique skills and unlimited imagination–that’s why we added Marianne last year and Shuna now.

How long have you known Shuna, and how would you characterize your relationship (personal, professional, both) prior to this collaboration?

We met Shuna through our friend, Chef Elizabeth Falkner, last summer and clicked right away. The three of us talked for months trying to figure out a way to get Shuna involved in Ovenly. At the beginning of January, Shuna came on as a consultant, helping us to streamline all of our baking processes. We loved her so much that after three weeks we offered her a permanent position.

How has being a team of three instead of two changed your creative, collaborative process in the kitchen? What are your new day-to-day roles in the business?

We aren’t just a team of three, we’re a team of 26! Our amazing staff includes bakers, prep cooks, dishwashers, baristas, managers, and delivery drivers. We are small, but we crank out over 3000 pastries per day and provide over 80 clients with treats daily; it takes a lot of people to do that!

The executive decision-making team, as we said, is now four. As the founders, we will be focusing on growth, sales, expansion, and partnerships while Shuna and Marianne will focus on expansion, new projects (like recently launched Ovenly weddings and daily retail specials and an expanded catering menu), and operations. This is a collaborative process, with each of us giving our creative and experience-based input while incorporating other key staff on major decisions. Together, we will be working on the big and small details–human resources, a new website, potential new retail locations, best delivery route for our clients, etc. Plus a whole lot more.

What are some new offerings we can expect to see at Ovenly? 

One of the recipes we are working on revising is an old favorite, our tender and tangy Peanut Butter Miso Cookie. Shuna is going to be working on that to scale and perfect it. We’re also working hard on daily lunch options (like seeded spelt bread sandwiches), on a new savory Bloody Mary scone, and on partnering with Fany Gerson of La Newyorkina for summertime ice cream sandwiches. Plus a whole other slew of ideas that involve seasonal fruits. Expect all of any new treats to play on traditional pastry and to fall within our company mantra: sweet, savory with a touch of spice.

Besides these new offerings, we’re going to revamp how we bake–providing morning, midday and evening specials at our retail location. Expect warm muffins in the morning, and new piping hot savory buns in the afternoon.

Besides a revamped menu, what else does this partnership mean for the future of the Ovenly brand in general?

Shuna is not just an amazing chef, she’s an amazing manager and thinker. Adding her to our already strong team provides us with decades of experience and knowledge that we, frankly, don’t have. We started out as home bakers and by hook or by crook we’ve been growing the company. Since 2010, we also have had to operate in the moment, adjusting recipes and facing challenges as they come. Adding Shuna doesn’t just mean partnership, it means streamlining how we operate, ensuring that our sweet-savory treats always stay perfect (we’ll never skimp on quality), and, thereby, promoting the long-term success for our business. With both Marianne and Shuna at our sides, we’re looking forward to planning for a long and delicious Ovenly future.

Shuna, you’ve spent much of your career working as a pastry chef at restaurants like the French Laundry, as well as the recently shuttered Peels and Calliope. Why join forces with a Brooklyn bakery?

While my career has been spent predominantly in fine dining restaurants, it’s also dotted with bakeries. From 2000 – 2002 I was one of two pastry chefs at Elizabeth Falkner’s Citizen Cake in San Francisco. Working in a bakery owned by a restaurant pastry chef set a unique tone for my first bakery experience. I created and collaborated on unique recipes for all product lines, and oversaw a large department that made product for our restaurant, wholesale, retail and catering.

It was at Citizen Cake that I created and implemented systems for efficient production, ordering, and training. As dull as it sounds, I was learning the basis for running a successful bakery, but within a highly creative, dynamic, avante-garde space.

Other businesses that have informed my love of bakeries are Boulettes Larder, Brown Sugar Kitchen and Poulet all in the Bay Area, The Modern Pantry and The Bread Factory in London.

What particularly appeals to you about grab-and-go baked goods, as opposed to refined, plated dishes?

While I agree that there are differences between bakeries and restaurants, the common thread, at least in my role, is baking. (I know that a lot of pastry chefs do not identify as bakers but I’m not one of them). In bakeries, my love of the craft of baking becomes a bottomless well to which I free-fall into. As craft is mastered with repetition, bakeries are libraries with epic stacks and leather reading chairs.

Ovenly, specifically, appeals to me because, as the biggest little artisan bakery in Brooklyn, helping extend the company’s reach while maintaining (and adding to) our super high-quality baked goods is the ultimate challenge.

I like to say that with baked goods, all the finesse resides in the back end. In plated desserts you can always add flourishes and garnishes to tie the dish together, but in a bakery the pastry has to be gorgeous and delicious before, during and after it’s baked.

(“The same effort goes into fine dining as casual; the expression might be different…. But it’s the same value system, culture, thought to sourcing and caring about ingredients, same level of training.” Lyndsay Tusk, speaking on the opening of Cotogna, the cafe next to their Michel rated restaurant, Quince in San Francisco.)

It would be a lie to say I wouldn’t miss working in restaurants–there’s a rush to translating an idea into a plate composed of multiple components–but I who I am, and I’m filled with dualities, so I’m just as excited for the rushes my new position may bring. At Ovenly I will bring the same caliber of training I had in restaurants to everything I do here.

Will you be bringing in some of your signature items, like Sticky Gooey Cake and Buttermilk Biscuits?

Flattery will get you everywhere. I appreciate your question, but I hope not to xerox a product I’m well known for wherever I land. I prefer to take in my surroundings and create new pastries, complementing the existing line. However, I have endless ideas, of course!

Erin and Agatha are known for their nut and spice-heavy, sweet and salty, Eastern European flavors. What are your primary influences, Shuna, and how will they both complement and expand on the established Ovenly repertoire?

Local seasonal fruit is my muse. I’m fond of utilizing fresh herbs, preserving, and pairing flavors that are in season at the time, while also keeping people on their toes. In recent years I’ve been drawing inspiration from the flavors and aromas of The Middle East, Greece, and Japan.

Flavor combinations at the top of my mind right now: white fig, dark chocolate, chestnut, and fennel seed; raspberry-rose geranium; juniper & blueberry; mastic – rosewater; buckwheat – milk chocolate – caramel; NY State heirloom wheat such as Emmer and Einkorn; quark – melons – gooseberries – bay laurel; barley miso, banyuls gastrique, white chocolate, and white pepper.

In recent years I’ve focused a lot of my attention of gluten and wheat free baking, making mixes with multiple grain, plant and nut flours. I’m excited Ovenly has a whole line of wheat free, and vegan baked goods already. I look forward to working with Erin and Agatha on new ideas for all product lines and some new ones.

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