At 9am on a recent, clear-skied Saturday morning in the industrial reaches of Greenpoint, Agatha Kulaga, 31, and Erin Patinkin, 30, were busy unloading a minivan full of muffin tins, mixing bowls, and scones into their borrowed commercial kitchen space. They’d already been up for hours, but when you’re working full-time and simultaneously launching a business, this is part of the bargain. Patinkin, who works for a non-profit women’s organization, and Kulaga, who runs a psychiatric research clinic at NYU, are also the two-person team behind Ovenly, a four-month-old “creative kitchen” spinning out sweet-and-savory pastries and gourmet bar snacks that they supply to private catering clients and local businesses.
The two, who playfully describe their relationship as a marriage, met at a culinarily-themed book club in April of last year and immediately bonded over their love of baking and their Eastern European roots. “The day we met, we knew we wanted to work together,” says Kulaga. Less than a month later, they were having their first business meeting. Both had restaurant backgrounds and had grown up in the kitchen learning to bake from their respective family matriarchs. “My grandmother was from outside of Vienna and used to own a traditional tea and pastry shop, so I learned to roll pie dough when I was really little,” says Patinkin. Kulaga was similarly trained by her Polish mother, and both felt inspired to draw from these backgrounds to help inform their recipe development. Their lemon poppy-seed cake channels the traditional Polish babka with its layers of poppy-seeds, and their pistachio macaroons are a reinterpretation of one of Patinkin’s grandmother’s cookie recipes, albeit with some Northern Italian and French influences thrown in for good measure.
True to Eastern European form, many of their sweets use finely ground nut flour (which they mill themselves) rather than wheat flour, which translates into a handful of authentically gluten-free treats. (In the middle of our interview, Patinkin received an effusive email from a Greenpoint local and Celiac disease sufferer who described Ovenly’s edible offerings as “life-changing.”)
Before they even had a logo or a kitchen space, the Ovenly ladies were taking orders for their custom-made goodies. A series of happy accidents—a number of friends were opening coffee shops around the time that Kulaga and Patinkin were developing their products—led to them supplying places like Veronica People’s Club in Greenpoint and new Bed-Stuy coffee shop Bedford Hill with their wares. They had noticed that even at their favorite cafes, great coffee was often being paired with so-so pastries, and, that Brooklyn’s foodie cred wasn’t being represented by the cheese balls and beer nuts on bars around the borough. And so, Ovenly carved out a particular breakfast bites and bar snacks niche for themselves. “What’s been really nice for us is that the people we’ve been working with have been really supportive and given us creative freedom,” says Kulaga.
In this spirit of support and community, Kulaga and Patinkin have taken pains to incorporate local products in their recipes, such as the massively addictive Spicy Bacon Caramel Popcorn, which uses bacon from The Meat Hook, the Spicy Old Bay Pilsner Peanuts (using Brooklyn Brewery Pilsner–their snacks are also on sale at the brewery during tours, happy hour Fridays and events) and a mustard cookie made with My Friend’s Mustard.
Patinkin just quit her job to devote her efforts full-time to Ovenly-related projects, so that the business can grow and expand. In addition to developing still more recipes to add to their arsenal (they’re currently hard at work perfecting a haute take on Combos and plan to add sandwiches to the menu at Veronica People’s Club soon), the duo is brainstorming a way to open a city-funded commercial kitchen in Brooklyn in an effort to help other local food artisans like themselves. “There’s a co-op kitchen in Harlem and one in Queens, but they’re just not convenient,” says Kulaga. They’re also hoping to give their makeshift business a more permanent home base. As of press time the two were working out of Halcyon Kitchen caterers, but are now in the process of signing a lease on a production space with retail capacity in Bed-Stuy. They aim to raise $25,000 on Kickstarter to help build a kitchen, which, if successful, would complete the Karmic circle of local/sustainable food patronage upon which their business is built.
Until then, hungry Brooklynites can continue to enjoy Ovenly’s edible ethos at Veronica Peoples’ Club, Brooklyn Brewery and Bedford Hill Coffee Shop, or try their hand at making one of Ovenly’s treats at home. Says Patinkin, “This is our take on scourtins—a traditional black olive shortbread cookie that originates from Northern France. We think it’s pretty amazing.” Check out the recipe on our blog.