A Day in the Life of Rachel Sundet
In this blog series, our summer intern Jackie will interview a variety of cheesemakers, mongers, and buyers, in order to get a glimpse into their day-to-day life. Follow along as Jackie goes behind the scenes and brings you the inside look on the cheese world.
For those of you who live in the Boston area, I can only hope that you have found your way over to Kendall Square in Cambridge to eat at Hungry Mother. Hungry Mother specializes in upscale southern cuisine, with a relaxed vibe, absolutely amazing food, and outstanding service (their drinks are pretty awesome too!). To get behind the scenes of this neighborhood eatery I met with Pastry chef Rachel Sundet to see what a day in her life looks like.
Rachel Sundet is a Boston native. She earned her bachelor's degree in anthropology at Columbia University, but never really found her niche during her various internships. Since she never studied abroad while in college, after graduation her parents suggested that she visit England and enroll in a culinary course. She loved the course so much, that she stayed on for a full year and completed the degree program. She moved back to the states, and never looked back. Since then, she has worked in a variety of restaurants, bakeries, and has even done some catering.
"Getting ahead, and staying ahead!"
Rachel, along with the rest of the food-prep crew, gets to work by 7am. The first thing she does is check the dessert sales from the previous night. This helps her understand which types of desserts are selling better than others, and gives her an idea of how much of each dessert she needs to prep for that evening's service. She spends her morning putting together her prep list for the day and assembling desserts that she has prepped previously—like pie crusts and fruit preserves. This multitasking helps Rachel to get ahead and stay ahead, which she explains is kind of the Hungry Mother motto when it comes to prepping. Throughout the summer, one of Rachel's main tasks is preserving all of the fresh fruit that is available, so that she can use it deep into the fall and winter months. During my visit, Rachel was getting ready to preserve some beautiful, ripe rhubarb, that she'll use to make preserves with or bake into a cake down the road.
Another part of Rachel's job is supporting the kitchen in general. She preps biscuits, crackers, and pan de mie bread, (french white bread) to be used for a variety of dishes. Occasionally, she will be asked by chef/owner Barry Maiden to come up with a recipe for something new and savory, like a certain style of roll, cracker or bread.
Other tasks throughout the day include making ice creams and sorbets, baking cakes and cookies, perfecting sweet sauces, coming up with specials for the night, and supervising the pastry assistant, Joanna. Rachel also gets to collaborate with the owners and bartenders on suggested drink pairings with all of her desserts. She really likes this aspect of the job, because it allows her to try a lot of new spirits and really take advantage of her creativity.
The Hungry Mother prep crew stays until all the work is done for the day. This usually means that Rachel is out the door between 4:30 and 5:30pm, which makes for a pretty long day!
Rachel has total creative reign over the desserts that come out of the Hungry Mother kitchen. She spends a lot of her time looking for new recipes and trying out new techniques that she can put a "Hungry Mother spin" on. By this she means slightly southern and a little rustic looking and tasting. Rachel gets a lot of her inspiration from her daily life and her co-workers. "If I'm at a friend's birthday party, and there is a really yummy ice cream cake, I'll try something similar and see how it goes." She also peruses an assortment of southern-style cookbooks and blogs to get inspired, but she often finds she needs to cut back on the sugar in a lot of old-school recipes to appeal to her tastes. She uses the traditional recipes as a jumping off point and then tweaks them to her taste. “Even though I am baking all day, I really crave salt!” Rachel really appreciates and strives to make desserts that have not only a sweet component, but also interesting texture and tang. She also enjoys the challenge of using seasonal ingredients and making the most of what is available to her. Sometimes in early spring there preserved fruit from the previous summer runs low and fresh fruit hasn't ripened yet, so she has to really get clever. Green tomato cake? Sure, why not!
A Slow Burn, Not a Sprint
Before becoming the pastry chef at Hungry Mother, Rachel worked her fair share of late night shifts, cooking on the line in a variety of kitchens. She loved the adrenaline and energy involved in working those late night, grueling shifts, but one of her favorite aspects about her job now is that she has a relatively normal schedule. She works 40-50 hours in a five day week and has her evenings free to catch up with friends and family. When describing the difference between working on the line and working during the day, Rachel says that is "a slow burn, rather than a sprint." As a pastry chef, she feels that she slowly burns through her prep list throughout the day, where as a line cook comes in late in the day, sets up, and basically sprints to the end-of-service finish line.
Another part of Hungry Mother that Rachel really appreciates is how supportive everyone on the staff is of each other, and of the restaurant as a whole. Additionally, she feels that the owners are really fair and seem to want everyone who works there to be happy. Not to mention that she works in a super-fun environment. Throughout the interview almost everyone was singing and dancing along with Prince's greatest hits, like When the Doves Cry and 1999. The vibe is really fun and relaxed, but everyone gets their work done.
- Rachel is a self proclaimed "NPR whore." Her fellow co-workers make fun of her, because she almost always is listening to the news, even if it's just for background noise. Her favorite programs are Car Talk and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.
- When not working at the restaurant, Rachel loves going out to other restaurants! Two of her favorites are Strip T's and the Deluxe Town Diner, both in Watertown.
- You can count on Rachel to order dessert when she goes out. Even if she's not really in the mood, she feels for her fellow pastry chefs and doesn't want them to have disappointing sales when they get to work in the morning.
- Rachel's favorite desserts to make are finicky, intricate treats, like layers cakes and lattice pies. “There is something really satisfying about putting a lot of effort into making something beautiful and having it come out nice—it makes you really happy to see it come out of the oven—pies make me happy!”
- However, when it comes to eating dessert, Rachel prefers rustic and fruit forward desserts that have tangy, and slightly savory elements, like salt. She also really loves soft serve ice cream (who doesn't?).
- Rachel's favorite drinks to pair with dessert include Italian amaro, and stronger spirits, with an edge, like bourbon.
- Rachel's husband, Tyler, works at Hungry Mother too! He is the self-proclaimed "daytime ringleader," which I presume translates to daytime manager.
- In her free time, Rachel enjoys practicing yoga, escaping to Cape Cod on the weekends, gardening, baking for special occasions, and dabbling in photography. Rachel and Tyler like to take on cooking projects together, though she admits that he is more motivated outside of work to cook than she is. They even used to run their own catering company out of their kitchen on the weekends!