On a recent Monday, Elan Valdez-Kaminsky laminated two batches of croissant dough, created original fillings and glazes for pastries and made a few batches of his favorite coffee cake batter to use throughout the week.
The next morning, he woke up at 5:30 a.m. and began baking right away. As the sun rose that morning, he pulled fresh pastries from the oven and delivered them to Kin Coffee Bar by 7 a.m.
After that, he went to a lecture for University Studies 350 where he studied how humans impact the earth on a global scale.
This is the life of a freelance baker who is also a full-time college student.
Valdez-Kaminsky, Cal Poly environmental management and protection senior, taught himself to bake during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now he freelances as a baker for Kin Coffee Bar and Bread Bike while finishing up his degree.
“Up until this point I have been entirely self-taught,” Valdez-Kaminsky said. “It has been rather grueling to get to where I am.”
Valdez-Kaminsky previously gained experience at another local business, Joliene Bakery, where he ran croissant production last year.
Croissants take more time and precision than most baked goods, Valdez-Kaminsky said. He taught himself how to bake croissants over time, always looking to perfect the many layers of butter and dough. Then, he used these skills to mass-produce croissants for Joliene’s.
Although Valdez-Kaminsky has since moved on, he looks back on his time with Joliene Bakery fondly.
“I made anywhere from 200 to 500 laminated pastries a week. It was a blast,” he said.
Baking outside of the box
The experience Valdez-Kaminsky gained at Joliene’s, along with many months of at-home experimentation, was enough to land him a freelance job baking for Kin Coffee Bar.
“These things fell from heaven and right into our shop” –– these are the words Kin Coffee Bar used on their Instagram page to describe the hand-crafted, lemon-pistachio Pop-Tarts they received from their new freelance baker.
Valdez Kaminsky’s affection for flavor experimentation is the reason Kin Coffee Bar hired him, said manager Taylor Johnson.
Kin was in the market for something different, he said. Many coffee shops use the same companies to source their pastries and Kin Coffee Bar wanted to try another approach.
From rolling up chocolate croissants to twisting cinnamon morning buns and adding crumble to coffee cake, Valdez-Kaminsky said he enjoys the entire creative process.
“There are moments where creativity strikes which are always really fun to just sit with my notebook and write out recipes,” he said.
Kin Coffee Bar and Valdez-Kaminsky’s baking have one thing in common, Johnson said: they love to stand out. This marriage of unique food production is one reason he believes Valdez-Kaminsky’s pastries have done so well at Kin.
The student-baker balancing act
Keeping up with his baking duties while being a full-time Cal Poly student isn’t always easy, Valdez-Kaminsky said.
During the pandemic, it was much easier with online classes, he said. However, now that Cal Poly has begun in-person classes again, his schedule is changing.
“Especially as the quarter ramps up, it’s getting more and more unwieldy,” Valdez-Kaminsky said.
Since the past academic year has been spent studying asynchronously, Valdez-Kaminsky had much more time to get into baking than before. He said he would spend the morning hours getting all of his assignments done so that he could be finished by 1 p.m. and bake for the rest of the day.
This amount of free time allowed Valdez-Kaminsky to master difficult pastry techniques and create some of his own recipes. Two of his favorites are raspberry cheesecake and chocolate hazelnut praline croissants. Now Valdez-Kaminsky has an entire recipe book filled with original creations.
Ash Parasa, Valdez-Kaminsky’s roommate, has seen this journey from the beginning. Parasa knew that his roommate had a love for baking, but thought it would stay as a side hobby in Valdez-Kaminsky’s life. Flash forward a year, and baking has become Valdez-Kaminsky’s daily life, as well as the source of his income.
Parasa says Valdez-Kaminsky is always trying new techniques and flavor combinations, refusing to stop until he is satisfied with the product.
“That tenacity has surely aided him in his journey,” Parasa said.
Onto the next journey
Valdez-Kaminsky will graduate in June with a degree in environmental management and protection. He plans to work for Bread Bike, which is opening a storefront.
At some point, Valdez-Kaminsky plans to take his skills abroad, possibly working in a bakery in France, he said. The freedom to travel is one reason he has chosen this path.
“I feel very fortunate that I know what I want to do, and to not be restricted to a certain place because of what I want to do,” Valdez-Kaminsky said
This article was originally published on mustangnews.net