Chef Sarah Botcher
Sarah Botcher is the owner of Black Walnut Bakery in Minneapolis. To realize her childhood dream of owning a bakery, she started her bakery in 2013 with farmer's markets and pop-ups that segued into a wholesale business. In September 2019 she opened her storefront bakery and café.
After her debut at the Minneapolis Farmers Market, she gained a following and learned how connecting with people is as much a part of the equation with running a meaningful and successful business. From the Culinary Institute of America to Tartine it has been an impressive journey for Minnesota native Sarah Botcher.
Valrhona: What inspired you to enter the world of pastry?
Sarah Botcher: I have loved baking ever since I can remember. As a child, I dreamed of owning a bakery and living in an apartment upstairs. While that vision ebbed and flowed during my younger years it never completely left. It wasn’t a clear path to this career until my early thirties, but once I walked into the kitchen, well, that was all she wrote as they say. Once, I finally returned to that dream, I couldn’t let go and have been working toward it ever since.
Valrhona: Tell us about your background as a pastry chef?
Sarah Botcher: I have been baking for over fifteen years, based in Minneapolis and for a brief time in the Bay Area during culinary school. I started in the industry as a dishwasher during college. You do whatever it takes if you want something bad enough. Jobs in baking and pastry were scarce in the Twin Cities ten years ago and I knew I had to leave Minneapolis to learn and improve my skill set. I was fortunate to find a certification program at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, CA. It was the right fit for me as I already had been in the industry for a few years and the courses were exactly what I needed, the education more than paid for itself. During that time I also worked at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. Going to school, working at Tartine and absorbing the food culture of the Bay Area was a formidable turning point in my life. The experience I gained during my time in the Bay Area was invaluable and it boosted my skills, knowledge, and confidence tremendously.
Starting Black Walnut was a leap of faith. I didn’t really have a clear plan of how I was going to get legs under my business but I just went with it. I took the plunge without a net. The plan became, “work your ass off” and I did. Still am. Almost four years later, I’ve worked nonstop baking, running the business and getting ready for that long-awaited storefront.
Valrhona: From where do your inspirations for new creations come?
Sarah Botcher: There are two places: My mind is best when I am outdoors. I live near a chain of lakes and I am there nearly every day. This is where I do my best thinking. Baking is very meditative. I love mixing scones on the bench and it is often when I can let my mind float ideas.
Valrhona: Who in your life has been the biggest mentor/inspiration in your career?
Sarah Botcher: There are a few. Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, one of the greatest chefs the world over, has always left an incredible impression on me about fortitude and dedication to excellence. His journey was arduous and difficult in his early years but his persistence and being an outlier set on his own path despite the obstacles is what made him who he is.
Liz Prueitt of Tartine Bakery is still my hero. She created something that resonated and really shifted the baking culture when Tartine opened.
Chad Robertson completely changed the landscape of bread baking. Their impact is immeasurable.
Pierre Herme. He is the ultimate master in my book.
Julia Child was my first mentor in the kitchen. Her books were constant companions and she never led me astray. Her Pommes Dauphinoise is always featured at the holiday table.
Valrhona: What is your most famous dish?
Sarah Botcher: I’m known for croissants.
Valrhona: What is your earliest dessert memory?
Sarah Botcher: Rice pudding from my grandmother.
Valrhona: What is your favorite type of pastry to make and eat?
Sarah Botcher: Croissants of every stripe. Not as much to eat my own now, it’s more about the process of mixing, laminating, shaping, proofing and baking. I’m always chasing the perfect bake. If I’m in Paris or San Francisco I go on a non-stop pastry tour. It’s an obsession.
Valrhona: What is your favorite Valrhona Chocolate?
Sarah Botcher: CARAÏBE 66%. It’s a great workhorse chocolate. Also great for a quick energy boost during late-night production.
Valrhona: When pairing with chocolate, what is your favorite flavor combination?
Sarah Botcher: Chocolate and butter or chocolate and coffee.
Valrhona: What is your favorite kitchen tip?
Sarah Botcher: Mistakes are part of the process of learning how to bake. Just don’t repeat the same mistake twice.
Valrhona: When & how did you hear about Valrhona for the first time?
Sarah Botcher: Tartine Bakery. I loved it right away and have been using it exclusively ever since. I’m looking forward to opening our bakery and expanding our Valrhona products to flavors that will be new for us. Valrhona will be all over the menu. Exciting.
Valrhona: If you could pass one bit of insight down to another chef, what would it be?
Sarah Botcher: Share and give knowledge to others. Give more of yourself to empower others and share everything you know to help others grow and reach their potential. You will be rewarded with the satisfaction that your team is better than you could ever be alone. They will be loyal and giving in return.
Celsius or Fahrenheit?
Cake or Tart?
Ubuntu, Napa Valley circa 2009-2010. It’s closed now but it was a wonderful Michelin starred vegetarian restaurant. It changed my perception of food and opened my eyes to California cooking and the bounty of amazing produce of Northern California.
Wine or Cheese?
Coffee or Tea?
Favorite Kitchen Tool?