Pastry chef Rebecca Albright is swiftly, and perfectly, crimping a pie crust while people pack into Ted’s Bulletin for a post-brunch wave of service on a busy Saturday. While waiting for a table, the pastry station serves as a source of entertainment for patrons who get to peer over the short glass wall at the assembly line of pop tarts, pie crusts being rolled out, and more desserts taking form. For Albright, the bakery window is one of her favorite parts of the job. “You get to interact with guests and get feedback, see their reactions,” she says.
Before she became a pastry whiz, Albright had studied broadcast journalism, though she found herself jumping at the chance to do different catering events and baking wedding cakes for friends during and after college. Towards the end of undergrad, she picked up a minor in food science, knowing that’s where her real passion was. Combine all of that with a natural affinity for baking and memories of growing up baking with her grandmother, it’s no surprise that a career in pastry was on the horizon. For a while, Albright entertained the idea of being a wedding cake designer before ultimately deciding to enroll at L’Academie de Cuisine.
Following an externship at the Willard Hotel, the bubbly California native decided to stay in Washington. “DC stood out to me. I’ve really fallen in love with the city,” she says. “I want to bake here.” Although some of us might complain about the workaholic attitude in DC, Albright has an appreciation for DC’s “passionate and career-focused” population. “People here devote themselves to what they do,” she said.
In addition to DC’s dedication and passion, Albright says she appreciates the sense of community within Ted’s, the restaurant scene and the city at large. She puts a lot of trust in her pastry cooks and likes that the team plays off one another well. It’s fitting that at a family-oriented restaurant, Albright describes the kitchen team as a kind of family itself. And then there’s the community within DC. There are the neighborhood regulars who rely on Ted’s to get their mornings going and who appreciate having their orders memorized and easily matched to their faces when they walk in. “You don’t get that in other cities,” says Albright.
She’s enjoyed seeing the city through the eyes of visitors when family and friends come in from out of town and she’s gotten to play tourist. And even though it might be hard for the east coast to compare to the constant abundance of all-year-round produce out of California, Albright says she’s loved the seasonal and fresh produce at local markets. Like a lot of other chefs, she looks around at what others are doing in their restaurants. “I like to see how someone puts two flavors you would never think of pairing together or how they use an ingredient and think of how to translate it to pastry,” she says, citing an example of eating huckleberry jam and then turning it into a pop-tart flavor at Ted’s.
“Baking is kind of like being a mad scientist,” she says with a little laughter. She takes me along for a quick flashback to undergrad where her food science minor required lab sessions making up and testing recipes. “Baking and cooking are so different. Pastry is such a science,” she says. Recently, Albright has been recreating the lab setting in her own home. After moving and discovering a box of old recipe cards left behind by the previous owner, Albright started playing around with and using the recipes for inspiration in new desserts at Ted’s.
For all of her enthusiasm for baking though, Albright points out that chefs “aren’t all food all the time.” “When people ask me what I think of a dish, I like to turn it back on them,” she says, adding that there’s a lot to glean from a non-chef’s reaction to a dish. Though it’s nice to take a step back from food at times, Albright jokes that she finds herself inadvertently baking on her days off.
With the opening of another Ted’s Bulletin on 14th street coming up for January 2013, Albright says she’s excited for more space. That means more pastries for you, dear readers. While working between two locations is sure to be a challenge, you’ll have lots of treats to look forward to from Rebecca and her team. The new spot will allow for Ted’s to churn out gourmet doughnuts, as well as more pop-tart flavors, giant cinnamon rolls, nostalgic and seasonal desserts and even some more savory items in addition to scones and quiches the Eastern Market location is already making.
Speaking of pastries, check back at 1 PM for Rebecca’s recipe for Montgomery Pie–it’s got a gingerbread crust and it’s perfect for the holidays.