St. Paul-based baker Rachel Anderson does business at the three-way intersection of industry, hustle, and soul.
Industry, as in the 33-year-old New York state native is the very busy pastry chef for Tim McKee’s Market House Collaborative, a job that includes a contract to churn out the rich, beautiful, jotun-sized desserts that Manny’s Steakhouse has become famous for.
Hustle, as in she’s the pioneering founder of the Instagram-friendly Vikings and Goddesses, a startup pie company that sources fruit from local orchards and uses luxe ingredients like Hope Creamery butter.
“I work six days a week and take Mondays off,” Anderson says. “But I’ve always been that way. In addition to everything I do, I’m part of a community band, I play soccer with an Ecuadorian team—I don’t sit and watch TV. It’s that New York brain that’s constantly going all the time, that you just can’t turn off.”
And soul, as in her work has deep roots, family roots, roots in tastes and stories that are part of Anderson’s DNA.
Anderson came to Minnesota in 2007 to do her junior and senior undergraduate years at the University of Minnesota for a gender, women’s, and sexuality studies degree. Since then, she has been weaving together strands of academia, prestige baking, and the hospitality industry to create a life for herself and her husband Yojiro Moro, who works in breads, pasta, and charcuterie at the prestigious Spoon and Stable restaurant in Minneapolis.
Anderson’s professional pedigree is long and complicated, including stints at Bellecour, Birchwood, nonprofit work, and a New York City-based nachos blog that spawned a book (“Ultimate Nachos”).
After leaving Bellecour in late 2018, she found herself talking to Tim McKee, who was managing a difficult transition with the departure of Michelle Gayer, founder of Market House tenant Salty Tart Bakery.
“I hadn’t been planning on managing a kitchen or working for anybody—I straight up told [McKee] during the interview that I never thought I’d work for another white guy again,” she says. “And he was just like, ‘Oh, okay.’ I was just like, here’s where I’m coming from and he was very receptive and very understanding of my reticence and being bullheaded about wanting to be a business owner and boss, and my reasoning.”
Anderson’s drive and vision found a home within McKee’s world where she splits her time between producing baked goods on behalf of Market House Collaborative and launching her independent brand, Vikings and Goddesses.
“We were able to come to a great understanding about the relationship,” says Anderson. “I have free run, I have publicity, I have a little bit of his power behind what I’m doing and an outlet for sales. It’s been a very good partnership, I think.”
Pies with Pedigrees
We met Anderson when she walked into our Toronto Street office toting one of her Vikings and Goddesses pumpkin pies garnished with chocolate-covered espresso beans. With a $28 price tag, the pie needed to clear a high bar to be something worth talking about—we’re value-conscious, and perfectly aware that you can get an edible (if forgettable) grocery store pie for $12. The first bite won us over: From its silken texture to its flakey, buttery, substantial crust to its earthy depth to its natural, nuanced, balanced sweetness counterpointed by the bite of the espresso beans, this was a pie to be reckoned with.
We exchanged a couple of emails with Anderson about her handiwork and it was clear she wasn’t playing around: she dropped paragraphs of knowledge about canned pumpkin (she’s in favor of it due to its consistency and color, and is well-educated about the alternatives) and the right way to make a serious crust (all butter, in her case, but with respect for the role lard can play.)
Ironically, it was pie-related exhaustion that led Anderson to found Vikings and Goddesses. “Last Thanksgiving when I was at Bellecour, we did over 600 pies and I was just done,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do it for myself going forward, because it wasn’t mine. […] I was really proud of the work we did, but at the end of the day I wanted to have some control over what I was doing.”
Control for Anderson means focusing on local ingredients and avoiding larger companies like Uline. The goal: Creating “a business that makes change within the community without actually going out and saying, ‘I stand for this!’ but actually going out and making small incremental changes.”
Those changes start on an elemental level. “I have a special blend of Baker’s Field flour,” says Anderson. “You kind of have to play around and figure out different flavors that work for each pie, and so I use their flour and I’m able to support that business that I’m really passionate about. And keeping flour in the community, which is something Steve [Horton] has done for the industry as well.”
Anderson utilizes local fruit, concentrating on seconds and surplus crops to control costs. “I try to use as close as I can to organic, but small farmers can’t afford to be certified as organic all the time. We use Twin Cities Berry [fruit] in the summer, which is great, but they charge $7 a quart for strawberries. I bought their seconds and was able to get them for cheaper, but when you put strawberries in a pie, you need to use a lot of strawberries.”
The Rise of the Independent Piemaker
As she builds a high-quality, high-gloss independent pie business, Anderson has a lot of local company—she’s part of an Upper Midwestern trend that may be developing into a movement. The rise of independent piemakers including Pie and Mighty, Stockholm Pie Company, Hot Hands, Sara’s Tipsy Pies, Dave the Pie Guy, and Golden Valley-based Sweet Potato Comfort pie baker Rose McGee marks a local boom of high-quality products that compete at a different level than the $8 shrink-wrapped model from Cub Foods. Throw savory pies into the mix and you can put Quebracho, Boludo, Land’s End, and Potter’s into the mix, too, making for an avalanche of Minnesota-based crusty deliciousness.
For Anderson, making it in a competitive, exhausting, tight-margined sector depends on planning. “I ended up enrolling in WomenVenture, which is a nonprofit here that trains women to run their own businesses,” she says. “They gave me all the tools to start thinking about it proactively, looking into financial resources and what I can do with that. They equip you to start your own business—I have a business plan, I have a pitch deck, I have all that […] to the point where Tim [McKee] was like: ‘Food people don’t know that this is a thing.’ They don’t know what a P&L looks like. Any of this stuff until they’re forced to think about it. Stepping out of food and doing these courses helped me change my mindset and get a more holistic view of what means to own my own business.”
The name Vikings and Goddesses comes from a quote from New York pastry chef Gina DePalma, an industry leader who died from cancer a few years ago. Women, she noted in a 2013 New York Times op-ed, “don’t need to be told we’re the gods or goddesses of the kitchen, because we are the Vikings.
“I’ve been the Viking of a lot of businesses,” says Anderson. “My name isn’t known, what I do isn’t known, but I’m there. I’ve never taken a sick day at a restaurant, I’ve always shown up. In Wayzata, I’ve had to drive out there and pick up people when no one else could and get keys and drive people into work. And so I just wanted a business that could highlight women in the industry, and highlight them for whoever they want to be. You can be a Viking, you can be a goddess, you can be anything in between. That’s what I hope, and why I wanted to bring my gender studies background into what hopefully my organization is going to be doing in the future.”
The business has its roots, in part, in a 2018 Chobani incubator scholarship that sent Anderson to a leadership conference for women. “Meeting like-minded women who are committed to the industry as a whole has been completely mind-changing,” she says. “It made me feel like things are possible out there and that change is possible, because you get such tunnel vision in a kitchen. You forget, ‘Oh, there are women out here who aren’t getting attention.’”
Recipe for Cream Wafers
These cookies originate with the “Cookie Lady,” Nancy Fredd, Rachel Anderson’s godmother. Anderson notes: “This recipe makes approximately 8 dozen cookies. They’re a bit of a project but they melt in your mouth and are totally worth it.” She adds: “I won a hipster cookie competition many years ago because I made them into triangles and dyed the frosting orange to make them look like nachos.”
1 pound butter, softened (4 sticks)
4 cups flour
2/3 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
Sugar for dusting
Beat butter with flour and salt until well mixed. Add heavy cream and mix well. Chill dough for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll chilled dough to ⅛-inch thick. Cut into approximately 1½- inch circles (a doughnut hole cutter works well, but you can even use a pill bottle). Transfer to a parchment-lined sheet tray. Sprinkle with sugar and prick gently with a fork to dock the dough. Bake for 7–9 minutes. Let cool.
½ pound butter (2 sticks)
2 egg yolks
3 cups powdered sugar
1½ tablespoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
Food coloring (as desired)
Mix all ingredients in a mixer until creamy. Spread frosting between two cooled cookies.
Read more chef profiles and get other great recipes in The Growler’s Minnesota Spoon column here.