Comadre Panaderia offers Latin inspired baked goods using wholesome and responsible ingredients, all for a good cause!
May 29, 2018
Following the advice of a friend whose palate is infinitely superior to mine, I visited a pop-up called Comadre Panadería. This one was hosted inside a cramped makeshift coffee shop in South Park. I had to squeeze my way around a packed house to get in front of an array of colorful pastries and since I wasn’t familiar with anything I saw, I resorted to the proven ordering method of pointing and nodding.
Later that day, I had to answer to an irate friend because I had eaten everything and didn’t have any to share. I couldn’t blame her. The treats were amazing and she would have to wait until the next pop-up. Further sweetening the deal, I learned from Comadre’s website that proceeds went to support communities in Latin America devastated by natural disasters like hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the earthquake in central Mexico. On the page was a single blurry picture of the person behind the pop-up and a name, Mariela Camacho. I had to know more.
Sitting across Mariela as she described the work of a baker, it’s hard to imagine how someone so slender and soft-spoken has been able to do it for nearly a decade.
You know how most job applications mention that you might need to pick up a certain amount of weight? For Mariela it’s routine to carry 50-lb bags of flour up and down flights of stairs and then standing for 10 hours at a time kneading dough by hand. Mentally, it’s no cakewalk either. Enough binging of food shows on Netflix has taught me that the commercial kitchen is no “safe space.” There’s obviously constant physical danger but even more brutal is the psychological searing that everyone is subjected to.
“My mentor was really hard and mean…and she was racist!” Mariela, whose parents had immigrated from Mexico, told me as she recalled her apprenticeship years in San Antonio, Texas. “I took a lot of harassment. But I just shut up and worked and learned.”
After soaking up all she could in San Antonio and feeling weary of a culture where she never felt like she fit in, Mariela moved to Austin searching for a different scene. In Austin, where “90% of the kitchen staff being of some Latin orientation,” she was able to speak Spanish every day and she loved it. But a few years on, the “weight of Texas,” a state that Mariela believes “doesn’t look out for its people,” became too much to bear. Having visited Seattle before and liking the food and climate, she packed up her rolling pins and made the move.
In Seattle, Mariela jumped around from place to place before landing at Amandine Bakeshop, owned by Sara and Bruce Naftaly, longtime pastry chefs specializing in French cooking. The gig was perfect as the Naftalys gave Mariela the freedom to push herself and discover new things. But as adept as she was at her craft, making macarons and croissants in the middle of Capitol Hill was about as far from her Latin roots as pizza is to Chinese cuisine.
“I was feeling lost,” Mariela said. “I missed my Latin community, speaking Spanish daily, having people call me mija.”
Suddenly she was transported back to San Antonio…and then Trump happened…and then the earthquake…and the hurricanes. All the ingredients for Comadre were there, waiting for someone with the skill and passion to knead, fold, roll, and whip it into life.
But building community is never a one person job. Mariela asked the Naftalys to use Amandine’s kitchen for the pop-up and their response was to “just do it, do whatever you want.” Dorothea Coffee, who curates the drink selection at Amadine, offered to help from the get go. Mariela also called friends and asked if they would work for free. They did.
After two events, she had a recipe for something special. It was a hit with everyone but she was especially proud of the huge support from the Latinx community, many of whom told her how they longed for the conchas and empanadas and galletas of their childhood. Some were moved to tears.
Like many young chefs, though, Mariela straddles the line between old traditions and new values.
“Panaderías are delicious but they’re full of bad ingredients,” she explains sheepishly as if all the tías were listening. “I love shortening, don’t get me wrong, but you shouldn’t put it in everything! Same with white flour and sugar. People deserve better.”
So while Mariela’s pastries look and feel just like how they always have, they are made with “beautiful things” like Washington grown wheat and produce. This, too, presents a challenge as she has to learn the “not so fun” aspects of growing a small business, like pricing, governmental regulations, and simply taking care of herself so she can “do this for another 40 years.”
“I know it’s going to be fun once I get it right,” she assured me. “I just keep thinking about the possibilities, the kind of space I want to create, of being able to take care of my parents, and everything that I can be.”
While we patiently wait for this worthwhile dream to come out of the oven, Comadre Panaderia hosts a pop-up at Amadine every last Sunday of the month with special events sprinkled here and there.
I’m especially excited about the collab with Pho Bac Sup Shop on June 2nd. Don’t miss this Vietnamese-Mexican extravaganza!