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May 2, 2017

10 questions with pastry chef at Gentle Harvest

“You wouldn’t eat a handful of flour or yeast,” Katie Kopsick says. “But when you put them together, it’s magical.”
I always tell people if I was on death row and I wanted a last meal, it would be like a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts and a gallon of milk.
Katie Kopsick
• Age: 33

• Home: Harpers Ferry, W.Va. 

• Work: Pastry chef, Gentle Harvest, 2016-present; pastry chef, Locke Store, Millwood, Va., 2013-16; executive pastry chef, The Manor House at Poplar Springs Inn, near Casanova, 2009-13; pastry cook, The Inn at Little Washington, 2005-07; pastry cook and bread baker, Per Se, Manhattan, 2007-09.

• Education: Bachelor’s degree, baking and pastry arts management, Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., 2005; Paul VI Catholic High School, Fairfax, Va., 2002.

• Family: Husband Nate; one cat, one dog. 
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Staff Journalist
Her experience runs the gamut.

“I can do most of it,” says Katie Kopsick, pastry chef of Gentle Harvest, a market and café in Marshall that sells local, humane/organic food. “I’ve done plated desserts. I’ve done wedding cakes. I’ve done catering. I’ve done restaurant deserts and stuff like that.”

Ms. Kopsick and an assistant do all of Gentle Harvest’s baking in a kitchen at Ayrshire Farm near Upperville.

Sandy Lerner, who opened Gentle Harvest last October, owns the 800-acre farm and Hunter’s Head Tavern in the village.

Ms. Lerner last fall had planned to open a second Gentle Harvest store, renovating the former Texas Steakhouse at Interstate 81 and Route 50 in Winchester.

“We’ve had a lot of dates thrown around, but there’s nothing concrete” about when the Winchester store might open, Ms. Kopsick says. “Hopefully, in the next two or three months.”

The baking operation, which also serves the tavern, will move to the Winchester store, she says.

Among Gentle Harvest’s most popular bakery items, cupcakes consistently rank at the top, Ms. Kopsick says.

“Everybody loves cupcakes.”

The cost of Gentle Harvest baked goods — like most items at the store — tend toward the high side.

Large, maple bacon doughnuts cost $6.25, large cupcakes $5 and brownies $3.50 apiece. A chocolate, coconut or oatmeal cake costs $48. A quiche costs $34.95.

A Fairfax native, Ms. Kopsick has practiced her craft at the highest levels, including at The Inn at Little Washington in Rappahannock County and Per Se restaurant in Manhattan.

Ms. Kopsick left the inn to work at chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she says. “It was very intense. Everybody there, from the dishwashers to the chefs, was so focused on the same goal: perfection, or the pursuit of perfection.

“Thomas Keller says there’s no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it.”

That experience prepared her well for the exacting standards set by Ms. Lerner, who initially made all the desserts for Hunter’s Head.

“Sandy wanted a multi-grain croissant to have something more than you can get anywhere,” she says. “The multi-grain croissant was a really big challenge.

“I probably did that recipe 25 times before we came up with the one we wanted . . . . (Ms. Lerner) definitely has the knowledge of pastries and what’s possible and knows what she wants.”

As much as she likes to make the sweetest of bakery treats, Ms. Kopsick’s heart belongs to bread.

“You know how like every corporate person wants to just go buy a farm somewhere and live simply?” says Ms. Kopsick, who someday would like to have a bakery of her own. “Bread is that living simply for me. It’s just four ingredients and time.”

• Why did you want to become a pastry chef?
I decided I wanted to become a pastry chef when I was a sophomore in high school. I had been taking some classes in cake decorating and I had been working in a bakery in Arlington. When it came time to decide what to do about college, there was really nothing else I could imagine myself doing long-term and being happy with.

It was tough for my parents. They’ve always been very supportive of everything that I’ve done. But they weren’t sure about not going to a normal college on an academic track. They wanted to make sure that I was serious about it.

• What do you like most to bake?
I really love and have a passion for baking bread. It’s alive. You have to know what it’s doing. You have to understand chemically and biologically what it’s doing to manipulate it to do what you want it to do. I like that challenge. You wouldn’t eat a handful of flour or yeast. But when you put them together, it’s magical.

• Your favorite pastry to make?
I like making things out of pate a choux best. It starts out as this little paste and you cook it over the stove first. Then you bake it in the oven. But it has such a high moisture content that as soon as it hits that really high oven, the steam in it expands and creates like a pocket that you can fill with stuff.

It’s so versatile you can poach it and make gnocchi or put cheese in it and make it savory and have it like a gougères for a cocktail party. Or, you can fill it with pastry cream and make it an éclair.

• What do you like best about your job?
Other than being around pastries all day? I like the people I work with. They’re always really fun. The kitchen brings a lot of different people from different backgrounds and walks of life. So it’s always a blast.

I like the hours. I like being there alone when nobody else is there so I can really space things out and make a lot of stuff at once.

• How much does chemistry/science figure into baking?
A lot. It almost becomes second nature when you’ve done it for a while. Taking a bread recipe that maybe doesn’t work and being able to look at it and say, ‘Oh, well, maybe it has too much acid in it. And it’s not getting the rise it needs and you need to add baking soda to it. You just have to have an idea of what’s going on to react to what and at what temperature.

• Do you create recipes from scratch?
Yes, and no. Some things you have to start out with a framework so you have an idea of what you want to make. If I want to make a rhubarb cake, I would take a cake recipe I know works and then decide: ‘I want more flavors in it. I want brown sugar. And if I add brown sugar, I have to add more baking powder.’ It’s going to react differently.

I’ve got a bunch of basic recipes for pate a choux, for ganache and cakes that you can manipulate to get what you want. So it’s like infinite possibilities.

• Does the store have a best seller?
Lately, it’s been the brioche cinnamon buns. They have really been popular. But we’ve just starting doing those a couple of weeks ago. Cupcakes always sell. Everybody loves cupcakes.

• Do you take customer requests?
Absolutely. One of our mottos is, ‘The answer is yes.’ The cinnamon buns were a customer request and now they’ve morphed into a staple.

• Do you want to have your own bakery some day?
Of course. Every pastry chef wants to. I want to own a bread bakery. I just want to do wholesale bread. And I just want to sell to restaurants and places like Gentle Harvest.

• Have you ever wanted to gorge yourself on a Dunkin Donut?
Oh, my god! Boston cream doughnuts are my favorite. And Krispy Kreme, you can’t ever go wrong there. I always tell people if I was on death row and I wanted a last meal, it would be like a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts and a gallon of milk.
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Daniel · May 3, 2017 at 8:32 pm
Gentle Harvest is a must visit in Marshall, VA!

My favorite menu item is the build a burger. Where else in Marshall can you get a Burger, let alone one made with Organic Beef for only $5?
BJ · May 2, 2017 at 2:12 pm
We have visited Gentle Harvest, and everything, to include the welcoming atmosphere is wonderful. Storaging the wine in the old bank vault was genius!
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