By Rosie DeQuattro / Photos by Katie Noble
Kim Gregory, 40-something, has great arms and a tight butt. You’d never take her for a baker—aerobics instructor maybe. But it’s her booming wholesale dessert business, Pure Pastry in Beverly, that provides all the daily, high-intensity workout she needs.
Starting at about two in the morning, six days a week, it’s rep after rep of bending and lifting heavy trays in and out of two standard-sized ovens, followed by stair mastering those trays up and down basement steps to waiting refrigerators. By 7am she has finished-up with all her allergy-specific orders—those gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, or other ingredient-free clients—and packed them off for delivery. She then tackles the rest of her 29 accounts, which includes restaurants, cafes, a few upscale supermarkets, farm stands, and a handful of caterers. By the end of any given day she has managed to crank out and deliver 500-600 pastries, all from her suburban home kitchen.
Volume has never been a problem. Everyday she bakes 15 varieties of cookies, and once baked for four weddings (900 cupcakes) and nine restaurants—in one day. “I’m good,” states the slim and muscular baker, her long dark hair framing her intense eyes. Without a bit of bravado in her voice or manner, she tells me, “I can pump out volume. And I’m wicked good at math.” She can look at a recipe and instantly “18 or 20 times it” and know if it will work.
From scratch doesn’t even begin to describe Pure Pastry. The cookies, bars, cakes, cupcakes, muffins, and scones—everything Kim makes—are all made individually, by hand, sometimes using just forks and knives to work the dough. The ingredients are almost all organic and mostly come from either Kim’s backyard (where she raises chickens for their eggs “of the most beautiful deep orange color,” grows organic vegetables and fruits which she harvests and dehydrates herself, and keeps six bee hives), or the organic farm down the street.
Despite the daily 2am start, her normal day ends at five, or six, or even seven. “With baking, you’ve got to be in the zone.”
And lest you suspect our heroine is all work and no play, her delightful and exuberant sense of humor flavors the whole operation. She has names for all the chickens, every queen bee in the hives, and each of her three refrigerators. Indoors, too, appellations reign: two dogs named Chop Chop and Tinkerbell, a cat named Rosemary, and Steve the frog.
Kim is self-acclaimed “old school Italian,” she believes in “mouth-feel,” and looks for “passion and flare” in a baker—one who shares an intensity for the mission. She used to have a helper but bakes alone at the moment. No wonder. To her, baking is a way of life. “I call my company ‘Pure’ because I keep it real. I am my pastry,” she says. “It’s the only thing I know how to do anymore.”
In the 1980s and 90s, Kim owned and operated a natural and organic cafe in Winthrop. Simultaneously she was a personal chef and an organic caterer. (She describes herself as a “workhorse”.) Even back then, she recognized the need for a line of pastries that could be enjoyed by those who live with food allergies. She began testing recipes and experimenting, substituting standard ingredients (the most common allergens like dairy, nuts, fats, and sugar) with ingredients less likely to cause allergic reactions. She developed a body of work, formalized her nutritional knowledge and training, and applied for a wholesaler’s license. And just two years ago, with only two accounts, Pure Pastry was born.
The recipes substitute pureed organic dates, or apples, or plums for the sugar or fat content. In all her recipes she uses rice milk and little sugar. “When people bite into my pastries the first thing they taste is NOT sugar,” Kim boasts. “I love it when people taste my brownies and don’t even know it’s gluten-free.” She dubs them “decadent but healthy.” She is giddy with excitement over this.
With dozens of accounts acquired through word-of-mouth (one of her accounts is the food-allergy department at Children’s Hospital in Boston), Pure Pastry is going at break-neck speed—and I think Kim recognizes it. She has a dream. Kim’s version of slowing down. The dream involves buying a farm and creating something like a sustainable, organic pastry farm, with a small retail focus—maybe even off the grid. It is about engaging kids in the farm’s general operations—kids who need a chance in life, who are maybe emotionally or physically challenged. “They can teach me more than I can teach them,” she wisely acknowledges. To most of us this would be overwhelming, but to Kim it’s an opportunity. And she is circumspect. “It’s up to me to balance it all and do it right.” I bet she will.
Freelance writer and long-time Edible Boston contributor, Rosie DeQuattro, focuses on new products and personalities in the food world. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.