Friday, January 11, 2008

NYOB (Not Your Ordinary Baker): Pete Solomita

Pete Solomita is a Renaissance man living in Brooklyn, New York. He’s a baker, an entrepreneur, a disc jockey, a dad, a husband, and a teacher. He defies the stereotype I have of professional chefs as being ill-tempered. (Remember Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck?) Pete is passionate about everything he does, but that passion comes seasoned with lots of compassion: he keeps one eye on his business and another eye on the big picture of what’s happening in the rest of the world and how his work fits into that.

I had the good fortune of meeting Pete while performing my monthly duties as a cart walker at the Park Slope Food Coop. While escorting taking Pete and his full shopping cart to his car (so that I could take the empty cart back to the store), I thought to myself: “This guy seems like an artist.” So I asked him what he did for work. “I’m a baker,” he replied. “I make cookies and sell them to restaurants and cafes.” “Oh, wow,” I said, trying to think of venues for his goods. “Do you know about the cookies they sell at Naidre’s [a Brooklyn café]?” I asked. “Yeah, those are my cookies – Little Buddy cookies.” What! I couldn’t believe it! My favorite neighborhood cookies came from this guy.

I decided to follow up our outdoor walk ‘n’ talk with an in-person interview at Pete’s house – which, amazingly, is home to not only himself, his wife and his young son, but also to his professional kitchen, his enormous collection of CDs and LPs for being a dj, and his four cats. After dropping my bags in the living room, I followed Pete up to the top floor. There, I met his helper, Xochitl Arenas, and checked out all the shiny, state-of-the art equipment while being enveloped in delicious smells. Pete gave Xochitl some instructions, performed the toothpick test on some still-warm mini cakes (see photo above), then brought me back down to the family room where I got the scoop on Pete and his amazing life journey.

Pete met his wife, Jill, in 1984 at a Brooklyn rock club. He was in a punk band at the time. Over the years, he’s channeled his love of music into being a dj and working for various music-related non profit organizations, including Lifebeat: The Music Industy Fights Aids and The Associated Blind. At the Association, Pete helped visually impaired folks run their own radio station and music lending library.

Down the road, Pete went through the chef’s training program at New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute in Chelsea and worked at some culinary jobs. After the birth of his son, Jack, in 2003, Pete decided he wanted to be more available for the role of parent. He decided to start his own business and soon found some neighborhood restaurants and cafes to purchase his sweet treats. He named his enterprise Little Buddy Biscuit Company after his son. Pete explains: “When Jack was in utero, Jill would say ‘Talk to your son,’ so I’d lean down to her belly and say ‘Hey, Little Buddy!'”

Cooking for both his business and his family from the same kitchen proved to be too chaotic, so Pete took the room once slated to be Jack’s and invested in the gear he needed to crank things up a notch, including a large convection oven. Demand for his cookies and individual cakes started to come from not only local restaurants but from people calling in for mail orders. This last holiday season, folks who had preciously received his cookie gift boxes were ordering the boxes for their own friends and colleagues. These days, to stay ahead of his orders, Pete measures out three weeks of cookie ingredients at a time. His top sellers include chocolate chunk; molasses spice with crystallized ginger chunks; peanut butter; and maple cranberry oatmeal with pecans. These and other delectable flavors are available not only for mail order gift boxes, but also for party platters and party favors.

When he’s not busy baking and taking phone orders, Pete teaches the art of cooking to teenagers and young adults. He sees cooking as not only a skill to learn to support good health, but as a means to learning other life skills, including teamwork, math, and organizing. Also, notes Pete, cooking is like music in that it involves plenty of improvisation.

What lies ahead for Pete? He aims to build a website for his company. He’d like a larger space in which to do his baking – preferably, something close to home. Another dream is to have a storefront where he could sell his goods directly to the general public, although he is wary of how that project could conflict with a desire to stay involved in Jack’s school. “I’m passionate about what I do,” says Pete. “I want people to talk about my cookies. I want my food to be a destination.”

To contact Pete about Little Buddy Biscuit Company, you can call him at 917-363-5567 or email him at groovalicious@verizon.net
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