Behind Closed Doors: Natasha Pickowicz


Activist, baker, rabble rouser and huge crush of ours, Natasha Pickowicz is giving us a peek into her world; it's understandably filled with sweets and also a deep drive to connect others and effect change, often through nourishment and community. Her Planned Parenthood bake sale that took place at Altro Paradiso in New York is a legend and she's recently created In Good Taste with other phenomenal New York City women to support grassroots organizations that help immigrant and BIPOC communities. In addition to all that, her new pastry pop-up, Never Ending Taste, is an exploration in the intersection of local farming, social justice and community bake sales. Understand why we're crushing?

How did you come up with the idea for the bake sale and why do you think it was so successful? 

Right after the presidential election in 2016, pretty much. I was feeling really cynical and depressed; right away it seemed like so many marginalized communities were coming under attack. I was feeling worried about everything; with the bake sale I wanted to focus specifically on women’s sexual health rights, and major organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide essential services like abortions, birth control, and hormone treatments in low-income neighborhoods. 

It wasn’t a given that the restaurant group I was working for would back the idea and give me the green light, but they did. I’ve always needed to alleviate my anxiety and nerves through physical action, and the bake sale was a very cathartic experience for me in that way. I’m such an organizer and a people-person, so planning the bake sale was a natural way to bring together my love of parties, pastries, and community activism. I think part of its success was that so many of my peers felt the exact same way, too! So it was actually surprisingly easy to get people involved and excited about the event, and create a feeling of celebration and togetherness out of a dark period.

Now that we’ve (seemingly) made it through the agonizing 2020 election season, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how I was feeling four years ago. As we’ve seen from the voting statistics, white women in this country need to do better. Joe Biden did not win this election because of their vote. I’m so inspired by groups like Bakers Against Racism, which use the same tools and strategies of bake sales but with a focus on BIPOC organizations. I think any event or gesture will be more successful if it is coming from a genuine, real place of interest and commitment. I wasn’t trying to build anything flashy or grand; it grew in scope gradually, over several years, through dedication and hard work.  


What advice do you have for someone looking to get more involved with their community?

The amazing thing about being “involved” is that it can encapsulate SO MANY ways of being. It’s voting, it’s phone banking, it’s community fridges, it’s food distribution, it’s self-reflection through writing and reading and learning. It’s not just capital-based, like donating money or supporting small businesses or shopping at a farmers market, though that can be important, too. For me, I try to find a balance in all those things. Not everyone has the time to spend volunteering in person; not everyone has $20 to donate to a local non-profit! But we must change certain habits, or reframe aspects of our lives that we take for granted or are coming from a place of complacency or privilege. I’m constantly chatting with friends about different ways to stay engaged with my neighborhood. Community bookstores like Archestratus sell books and food, but they also host neighborhood events like fundraiser bake sales. I think for me, it just comes down to establishing meaningful relationships with people I respect: I learn and grow from their stories and voices.

What are you working on now? 

I haven’t had a “full-time job” since I lost my job as a pastry chef for a restaurant group way back in March. But in some ways, I feel busier than ever! Back in July, I started a new pastry pop-up called Never Ending Taste, which explores the relationship between local farming, social justice and community bake sales. So far, I’ve popped up at NYC’s Superiority Burger, Brooklyn’s The Four Horsemen, LA’s Kismet and San Diego’s Chino Farms. It’s been a really energizing way to stay connected to the restaurant world, bake and serve treats to the people again. I feel so humbled by the generosity of the restaurants and spaces that have extended every kindness to me. Especially since I am still reeling from the loss of my job. Every pop-up highlights a different food justice-related organization; and on a personal level, it’s been really empowering (and scary!) to also explore just what pastry means to me with no other opinions or feedback from bosses. 

Other than that? I’ve been writing and recipe developing for home bakers. I’ve been collaborating and teaching with some great new-to-me organizations like Ask Chefs Anything, Rethink Food, and Kitchen Rodeo, as well as continuing to develop my pre-existing relationships with NYC non-profits like God’s Love We Deliver and the Food Education Fund at the Food and Finance High School. None of these things generate any income for me at all, so the next challenge is figuring out a way to make these relationships more sustainable for me financially. 

Right now, I’m in the midst of promoting a new fundraiser called IN GOOD TASTE with my friends and fellow creatives Susan Alexandra, Emily Eisen, and Kelsey Shaw. The project asks 25 of our favorite thinkers, activists and creatives to come up with their dream starter pack: a bundle of their favorite can’t-live-without items from their favorite local and independent businesses. Anyone can enter (via a donation to one of our two non-profits, New Immigrant Community Empowerment and Good Call) for a chance to win the starter pack. We started working on this project over the summer (!) so finally being able to share it with the public is super gratifying and exciting.What's always in your fridge? 

Ok, just opened up and took a peek around. I ALWAYS have butter (salted AND unsalted), multiple tubs of hummus (I don’t have a food processor so I don’t make it myself, but I will improve the store-bought sludge I love so much with a spoonful of tahini, chopped herbs, chili flakes and tons of olive oil and lemon zest), Persian cucumbers (the one thing that is consistently good in the grocery store produce aisle), coffee beans (Parlor or Counter Culture for me!), regular frilly kale (I eat maybe 1 bunch a day, 2 bunches if it’s Lacinato), anchovies in oil, shallots, corn AND flour tortillas, knobs (and rinds) of good parmesan, vanilla extract and beans (I often get sent lots of different brands, but keep coming back to the Tongan purveyor Heilala Vanilla), a million vinegars, white sesame paste, jar of white miso, fancy and not fancy cheese (not averse to a block of Cabot cheddar). And the odds and ends of various baking experiments stored in pint and quart containers. I always have bits and bobs of dough scraps wrapped in plastic wrap and stuffed in every corner of my fridge. Since we’re still in the fall season, I shop regularly at farmer’s markets too, so right now I also have great apples, pears, eggplant, potatoes, delicata squash, sweet peppers, spinach, mizuna, grapes and garlic. 

I used to never keep alcohol at home as I rarely if ever drink alone, but now I usually have a bottle or two of wine from my local wine shop Dandelion on hand. Same with meat and seafood: I love it, eat it, appreciate it, but I actually never purchase for my home. (One exception is I’ll buy a whole chicken to make stock about once a month or so). Living alone is a very unique experience and one that I’m so grateful for: I eat exactly what I want, when I want, how I want. 2am quesadillas, pizza for breakfast, or skipping meals altogether if I don’t feel like it, I’m beholden to nobody. 

My freezer has become a bit of an exclusive storage space for pastry items; ingredients like blocks of butter, bags of flour and sugar, leaveners like baking powder and dried yeast, and even seeds, nuts, frozen berries, and chocolate, all live in my freezer. They keep so much longer that way! I also keep unbaked and finished pastries and breads frozen, ready to be thawed or flashed for an easy treat. Stacks of wrapped pie dough or rolls of sugar cookie dough are particularly nice to have on hand or give to a friend.

I also end up bringing home any restaurant-sized leftovers or mise en place from my Never Ending Taste pop ups, so I have some funny, large treasures in my fridge, like gallon buckets of Valrhona hazelnut praline (maybe one of the most delicious things ever) and giant blocks of Gianduja chocolate. I keep a pint of citric acid in here too. Any serious baker should have some on hand, in my opinion. Perfect for the final balancing note on a new syrup, tea, jam or fruit spread. (You can buy citric acid, or its more mellow cousin malic acid, at SOS Chefs in the East Village or Kalustyan's in Curry Hill)! I ran out at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown and felt a panic — luckily my friend and neighbor Erin Considine had some on hand because she uses it to treat some of her jewelry! Versatile! 

What’s always in your pantry?

It’s a little chaotic in here, to be honest. Gallon cans of really good olive oil (the savings are indisputable — I’ll never buy olive oil in any other quantity ever again), at least 3-4 different brands of canned beans and dried beans (always trying new brands to see if I find something I like more), popcorn kernels, Chinese instant noodles, cocoa powder (Valhrona is the best and not as expensive as you think!), coconut oil, tiny handfuls of like 5-6 kinds of dried pasta because I’m so bad at finishing the box, haha.

I also always have a LOT of snacks because I love treats and trying new brands: looking now, I see that I have wasabi peas, some shrimp chips, rye crackers, Triscuits (plain though I’m always curious about the weird varieties like FIG?!), plantain chips, the world’s best brownies from God’s Love. 

What ingredient are you most excited about right now? 

I was recently introduced to Meletti Anisette, a not-too-sweet liqueur that reminds me of Sambuca or Pastis. It’s not for everyone, but I simply cannot get enough of the flavor of anise and liquorice! It’s so nice after a heavy meal or a lot of wine. I drink mine over ice, which turns it a bewitching shade of grey-lavender. I just read that in Italy, they like to drop a few espresso beans into the glass — called “mosche,” or flies — need to try that next. 



What would we be surprised to find in your kitchen? 

Most people are surprised to find out that in the years leading up to the pandemic, my fridge (and pantry) was pretty bare bones. I’d leave my apartment and eat breakfast at the restaurants; I’d eat dinner at work too, and usually just come home to sleep and get ready for the next day. So, not a lot of fresh food in the fridge, and no incentive to stock my pantry in a meaningful way. Even on the weekends, I’d mostly go out and eat at friend’s restaurants and cafes and bars. I love cooking, but it just wasn’t happening.

Obviously everything changed when I lost my job and began spending all my time at home. Building out my fridge and pantry has been a total joy, honestly. Friends send me treats in the mail all the time, and they’ve become staples that I can’t live without — the celery Tart Vinegar from Chris Crawford; mind blowing spices from Burlap & Barrel (especially the dried oregano buds and royal cinnamon) and Diaspora Co. (the turmeric and Guntur Sannam chilli are out of control!!); all-natural Supernatural sprinkles; Seed + Mill tahini; Manicaretti olive oils; granola from Camille Cogswell; furikake from Holy Tshili. I’m grateful to have access to so many high-end ingredients even though I’m not surrounded by them in a restaurant kitchen anymore!    

Who is inspiring you in the food world right now?

That’s easy: Archestratus Books is on my street and they are the best. In the last six months the owner Paige Lipari has gently reshaped her business to also sell what have now become my kitchen staples. Every Thursday, I stop by and get my “usual”: She Wolf sesame sourdough, vegetables like sweet red shishitos and bronze fennel from Bodhitree Farm and Hog Island; fat wedges of salted French butter, pecorino, and parmesan; eggs, whole chickens, sweet potatoes, squash; even beautiful fruits like figs, pears, apples and tiny grapes. I buy plenty of my dry goods there too — Rustichella D’abruzzo pastas; Marco Colzani pistachio spread; Iasa calabrian chilis and spicy anchovies; Italian mead vinegars, Rancho Gordo beans; gallons of La Valle extra virgin olive oil; and my desert-island vinegar, Forvm white chardonnay vinegar (it tastes like clear gummi bears).

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