B aking can be a complex, time-consuming science experiment, and most coffee shops are content to outsource the skilled labor involved. Not so in the

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Best Baker on the Rise

Quill Teal-Sullivan

Baking can be a complex, time-consuming science experiment, and most coffee shops are content to outsource the skilled labor involved. Not so in the case of Linda Derschang's most recently launched Capitol Hill hot spot, Oddfellows Café & Bar, where the entire lineup of baked goods is proudly made in-house, by bakers on a 5 a.m.–1 p.m. schedule. The mastermind behind this production is the young, ever-smiling baking manager Quill Teal-Sullivan, who's got the trade in her blood.

"My mother founded The Essential Baking Company," she explains, "and as a result, I spent a lot of time rolling in flour, watching mixers spin 'round and 'round, getting in dough fights with the bakers, and forming loaves on the bench. I have been baking since I can remember. I was on the counter with my mom, cutting butter, and was always wanting to spend time in the kitchen."

Born in 1985, Teal-Sullivan grew up in Seattle and went to college in Idaho, and though her formal education was in biology, she says that even in school, "I would bake more than anyone around me could eat." When she returned to Seattle, she went to work with baker Heather Earnhardt at Volunteer Park Café. Her first day on the job, she showed up to find the key under the mat and a recipe for muffins. Earnhardt was a great mentor, not least because she gave the new baker a lot of room to experiment.

When Derschang hired Earnhardt as a consultant to help establish the Oddfellows bakery, she brought Teal-Sullivan with her. Earnhardt has since left the establishment, but a smattering of the recipes are still hersâ€"the toffee-studded Oddfellows cookie, for instance, and the bacon, cheddar, and scallion sconeâ€"and Derschang has continued to foster creative license within the bakery department.

In the display case, standard peanut-butter cookies and molasses cookies are piled next to a lemon bundt cake, which keeps company with more unexpected treats like peanut butter–frosted, jelly-filled cupcakes. Though all of the items are reliably good (and markedly fresh), the tastiest ones may be the seasonal innovations, like plum upside-down cake or a blackberry-bottomed, oat-topped coffee cake. Teal-Sullivan leads a three-person team responsible for coming up with new recipes to take advantage of each season's choice fruit.

It is clearly the process itself that she finds rewardingâ€"employing scientific precision, a penchant for creativity, and a tolerance for the unexpected. "You can't match it," she says. "It's almost magical, especially when something goes into the oven and you have no control of it."

Her current project involves perfecting a new chocolate-chip cookie recipeâ€"something innovative that still offers the pleasure of the familiar. As I sampled the competing items, Teal-Sullivan explained how minor variationsâ€"in mixing time, oven temperature, baking time, the temperature of the ingredientsâ€"result in distinct differences in texture and flavor.

"I am so lucky to have such a creative job that is so fulfilling," she says. "It's peaceful and meditative, and you can do creative things with your hands. And more than anything, it makes people happy."â€"Adriana Grant

 
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