If you’re planning to go to Ojai, California, make sure that The Dutchess is at the top of your list. It’s a love letter to the beautiful nature and mountains of Ojai Valley, and Kelsey Brito is one of the partners and the head Pastry Chef of this special place. It’s warm and welcoming for anyone and everyone who steps inside, and the food is farm fresh, innovative, and somehow both fresh and nourishing. A majority of the ingredients come from within a 50 mile radius, and the relationships they have with the farmers they work with are genuine and you can almost taste the love in the food. It really is like you enter a space that you didn’t know existed anymore when you walk inside, an ode to reunion and joy in itself.
Christy spent an afternoon with Kelsey learning a thing or two about baking, and we’re so excited to share this slice of sweetness with you.
Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Kelsey Brito and I’m Pastry Chef & Partner at The Dutchess in Ojai, California. I was born in the Bay Area, but mostly grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 18 and have lived & baked up & down coastal California for about 11 years before landing in Ventura, with my partner, Travis, and my pup, Kacey.
How did you start cooking?
I come from an Italian/Portuguese household, so I don’t really remember ever not cooking. Growing up, my family always made a point to prepare and eat dinner around the table together nightly. Every milestone or celebration meant food, loved ones, and laughter in abundance - so I suppose it’s simply in my blood!
What is your first meaningful memory with food / baking / cooking?
Baking cookies, brownies, banana-blueberry bread, and cooking breakfast with my mama, barefoot in the kitchen.
Tell us a little bit about your process and where your inspiration comes from when it comes to creating recipes.
I think one of the most miraculous things about food is its ability to transport you to a specific time and place - I find it incredibly nostalgic in that way. Food is our memories - of people, of places; a way to share our culture, joy, and human experience, a way to connect with each other, to take care of each other. For me, I think it’s equal parts allowing that to guide me, and the other half of the time, it’s being moved by the produce/grain/etc. a farmer has grown and wanting to take that and make something beautiful to express the gratitude I have for them and the hands it took to bring it to fruition. Cooking, baking, farming - it’s all a labor of love.
“I come from an Italian/Portuguese household, so I don’t really remember ever not cooking. Growing up, my family always made a point to prepare and eat dinner around the table together nightly. Every milestone or celebration meant food, loved ones, and laughter in abundance - so I suppose it’s simply in my blood!”
What does regeneration mean to you?
Living mindfully and intentionally; giving back, closing the loop, preservation for future generations.
How do you connect with Mother Earth?
I feel most connected to her when I’m swimming in the ocean, basking in the warmth of the sun, gardening, hiking, cooking - doing anything outdoors.
Spiced Kabocha Squash Loaf
With Coconut-Chamomile-Turmeric Glaze
Makes One 4½" × 8½" Pan Loaf
½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ Cup + 1 Tablespoon Organic Cane Sugar
1 Tsp Kosher Salt
¾ Cup All Purpose Flour
¾ Cup Spelt Flour
½ Tsp Baking Powder
⅓ Tsp Baking Soda
1¼ Tsp Cinnamon
¼ Tsp Garam Masala
½ Tsp Nutmeg
¾ Tsp Ginger
1 Cup Kabocha Squash, Roasted/Pureed**
**If squash isn’t in season where you are or you’re in a pinch, feel free to sub with a 1:1 conversion of canned pumpkin or butternut squash - nobody is judging :)
To Prepare The Squash:
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and pulp, compost or discard.
Lightly brush the squash with olive oil, place cut side down on a sheet tray with parchment paper. Roast about 40-45 minutes until soft and slightly wrinkly. Pull from oven and lower temperature to 350°F.
When cooled enough to handle, gently pull the skin away from the squash and discard. Place squash in a food processor or blender and buzz until smooth. Measure out what’s needed for the recipe and set aside to cool.
To Prepare The Loaf:
- Brush a loaf pan with oil and line with parchment if you’ve got it. Set aside.
- Sift the flour(s) and baking powder and baking soda and set aside.
- Combine the measured squash with all of the spices and mash with a fork to disperse throughout, ensuring there are no clumps. Set aside.
- Measure out the olive oil, sugar, and salt in a medium sized bowl. Whisk to combine.
- Add the eggs and whisk vigorously to emulsify (think salad dressing).
- Add the squash-spice mixture and stir to combine, and lastly, add the sifted flour. Stir until just combined and no dry bits remain.
- Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for about 40-45 minutes (Depending on your oven! Always better to check slightly earlier than too late), or until a toothpick or knife inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back when gently touched. Allow to cool completely before gently unmolding from the pan with a knife or thin spatula.
For The Glaze:
Chamomile Tea, Loose
Vanilla Bean Paste (Optional)
- In a saucepot, combine the coconut milk and chamomile tea.
- Bring to a boil and allow to steep for 1.5 minutes before straining off the tea, reserving only the liquid. Set aside to cool completely.
- In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, vanilla bean paste, and
- With a whisk, stream in the chamomile-coconut milk tea and whisk until smooth. Glaze should be spreadable but not overly fluid, if needed, add water 1 teaspoon at a time to thin out.
- Once the loaf has cooled, glaze and garnish/decorate as desired!