Name: Katy Nelson
Current City: Des Moines, Iowa
Current Job: Owner, Scenic Route Bakery
What is your background in baking/pastry and how did you get to where you are today?
In the 12 years since winning the Iowa Egg Council cooking contest at age 15 (a pivotal event that pushed her toward a culinary career), Katy Nelson polished off two culinary degrees (including the heralded French Pastry School in Chicago), studied pastry in northern France, worked as a Marriott pastry chef in Chicago, and managed kitchen operations for a four-store bakery café in Seattle. Then two years ago Nelson decided it was time to come home to Iowa and open her own bakery. Scenic Route Bakery held its grand opening in Des Moines on Dec. 29, 2014.
What do you love about your job?
“I love the environment we are creating here. I set my expectations high. I am not an easy boss. But as much you guide and critique, you should praise and thank. I don’t employ one person who doesn’t care. And if you can’t inspire the people around you, you shouldn’t be leading them.”
What are your favorite dishes/products to make?
One of her favorite products to make is monkey bread, which is laminated dough chopped up in pieces and topped in sugar and tossed in the oven. “We also make all our bread in house for sandwiches. We make white, wheat, rye, challah, baguettes and flatbreads.” The top-selling item on the menu is their Pinwheels, and other favorites among the locals are chocolate croissants and scones. To keep it simple, they make three flavors of scones: cranberry, blueberry and almond. “Ours are scoop and drop. The less you touch the dough, the better.”
What do you consider to be the biggest food trends impacting your business, and how are you responding?
“A lot of our product line stems from me being disgruntled about people asking me, ‘Are you going to make cupcakes?’ No, I answer: ‘I make amazing French bread, laminated doughs and fantastic cheesecakes.’”
What is the best advice you have received from other bakers/ chefs?
As much as pastry was her calling from an early age, she has been equally drawn to lessons in leadership. As she moved around the country in various jobs, Nelson picked up lessons from mentors and bosses along the way, always trying to learn how best to manage. Her first boss taught her the importance of the “work hard, play hard” philosophy. Working in the heat of a kitchen means it’s important to hydrate, so Nelson will lead the staff in water chugging contests on occasion, while they dance around to music ranging from hard rock to pop to opera. Nelson enjoys opera as she bakes “because it’s so good for the brain.”
In terms of innovation, what do you think your generation brings to the table?
“Even in high school, I had two jobs and a paper route. I have a lot of energy. I don’t know how people work just 40 hours a week. What do they do with all that extra time?”
Nelson pushes the creative envelope on the savory side of the menu, where she offers everything from a goat cheese and anchovy croissant to crust-less quiche. The cafe serves open-faced sandwiches regularly; one recent example is arugula, avocado, fried egg topped with Harissa béchamel (a classic white sauce made from butter, flour and milk) on toasted rye bread. “Put an egg on top of anything and people here love it,” she says. “Early mornings, people want savory things to eat.”
What is the best thing you’ve eaten lately?
The sticky buns at Scenic Route Bakery are baked in sugar and honey. “Honey is my favorite food ever. It’s so interesting because there are so many different flavors. It’s the coolest food on earth.”