After roles at Andaluca, Hot Cakes and Sugar Mountain, Damkoehler leaves behind a community of fans, along with a recipe for Raspberry Cornbread.
IF YOU LOVE desserts in Seattle enough to know a pastry chef’s name, chances are good you’ve hoped Lucy Damkoehler would open a bakery one day.
Maybe you tasted her brioche doughnuts at the old Olympic Sculpture Park farmers market, or her clever themed sweets based on exhibits at the Seattle Art Museum. Molecular gastronomy at Mistral Kitchen? PB&J cake at Pasta & Co? There wasn’t much her range didn’t cover after she arrived in Seattle 12 years ago with a cheerful smile and a heart (and hands) full of zest.
Damkoehler was raised in Bernardston, Mass., the sort of homey small town where “nobody leaves.” She grew up baking bread with her father, earned the nickname “Sweet Lucy D” with the treats she baked for classmates, and applied for a bakery job the day she turned 16.
She also became the rare one who did leave Bernardston, graduating from culinary school and working under big names like Claudia Fleming at New York’s Gramercy Tavern.
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While Damkoehler was figuring out her next move after working in Europe, a friend told her the Edgewater Hotel needed a hand. The day she landed in Seattle, she thought, “I’m never leaving this place, ever.”
She loved our “supercool city” with a little bit of country essence, living and working with a farming community nearby.
Damkoehler made a name for herself over the years — not that common for pastry chefs — including roles at Andaluca and Hot Cakes and at Sugar Mountain, where early plans called for her to run a company bakery.
She married and had two children, and went back to the Bon Appétit Management Co., which ran the art museum’s cafe, this time working as pastry chef at Seattle University.
Slowly, and gradually — or so she thought — something shifted. She told her husband, “I’m ready to start thinking about moving back East.” Then her thoughts went hyperspeed. She got word that her company’s contract wasn’t being renewed. She would likely be laid off. That same day, she got a call from the owners of a bakery in her hometown. After 18 years, they were looking to sell.
Seattle fans soon heard Damkoehler would have a bakeshop, but far away from where we’d hoped. She ran a successful Kickstarter, driving around the city to deliver rewards like apricot bars and her famous sweet & spicy nuts … and to say goodbye. She loaded the car and drove cross-country with her husband and kids, upgraded some equipment, and added an espresso machine. Craig Hetherington, her former colleague at Taste SAM, came East to help paint the building in the sweltering heat.
In October, she opened for business as Sweet Lucy’s Bakeshop, in a building where she remembers eating ice cream as a kid.
“It’s like a mini-reunion every day,” she says.
“The very best brownies I have ever had,” says one online review. “The French macaroons are the best I’ve ever had!!!” says another. Still another: “Best scones I’ve EVER had!”
It wouldn’t have been possible in the Seattle area, not with the price of rent and child care and the way things have changed here.
“I wanted small-town country living, fields in your backyard,” she says.
Near Seattle, that now means areas like Carnation or Preston, but housing costs are still prohibitive there, and so is the commute. Chef friends love Walla Walla, but that’s about as far by car as the East Coast is by plane.
“I don’t know how anyone can do it,” she says.
Even in New England, the business pencils out only because they’re starting out living with her mom — literally coming back home. It’s a different kind of adventure.
“Every single experience I’ve had in Seattle leading up to this point has set me up completely for success here, positive and negative …” she says.
“I definitely miss the community I had in Seattle. But then, they can come out and visit. It’s a supercool place, and anyone I knew in Seattle would love it out here.”
Makes 12 servings
8 oz. butter, browned and warm
14 oz. powdered sugar, plus 2 oz. to sprinkle at the end
8 oz. cornmeal
3 oz. gluten-free flour
1½ tsp. kosher salt
1½ tsp. baking powder
8 egg whites
60 raspberries (fresh, not frozen)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line muffin tins with paper cups.
3. In a stainless-steel bowl, whisk together all ingredients, except the reserved 2 ounces of powdered sugar, until the batter is lump-free.
4. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tins, three-quarters of the way full.
5. Place 5 fresh raspberries in the center of each.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Rotate the muffin tin, and continue to bake until the batter is a light golden brown and the center is firm to the touch — about 10 more minutes.
7. Remove from the oven, and cool. Dust with 2 ounces powdered sugar.
Recipe courtesy of Lucy Damkoehler