Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pastry chef Natasha Goellner on her shop on the Plaza and why a little color never hurts

Posted By on Thu, Sep 1, 2011 at 5:00 PM

The marshmallows at Natashas Mulberry & Mott are just some of the colorful thigns in the Mission Farms shop.
  • The marshmallows at Natasha's Mulberry & Mott are just some of the colorful things in the Mission Farms shop.
Natasha Goellner walks around the counter, hand extended, her blond hair pulled back and a smile on her face. It’s shortly after 8:40 a.m., and she’s smiling because she slept in today. Her weekdays usually start somewhere around 4 a.m.

Goellner is the pastry chef and co-owner (alongside her mother, Vicki) of Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott (10573 Mission). Her long-sleeve black T-shirt and Crocs stand out amid the colorful desserts that fill the pastry cases of her Mission Farms bakery. Pink and white rectangular blocks of marshmallows rest above chocolate tarts and croissants filled with goat cheese.

“I don’t want everything to be brown,” Goellner explains. “You walk into a French pastry shop, and it’s always so brown. I wanted it to be beautiful.”

She was on track to be an artist when she graduated from Notre Dame de Sion in Kansas City. Goellner had been accepted into the Kansas City Art Institute and envisioned a career in photography. But she never got to the point of declaring a major, as she discovered that her business sense conflicted with the ethos of her fellow students.

“Even though I work in a coffee shop now,” she says, smiling (alluding to the coffee sold in her store), “I didn’t want to work in a coffee shop and be a barista and sell paintings.”

Goellner loved her art history courses, though, and thought she might pursue archaeology. In order to do that, she left the Art Institute and enrolled in the University of Kansas. Over Christmas break of 2002, her brother Nick (currently a chef at the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange) got her a book that changed her career path permanently. The book was Margaret Braun’s Cakewalk, and it struck a chord with Goellner.

“Right then, I knew I was going to make wedding cakes, and within two weeks of reading that book, I’d found a school in New York and enrolled,” Goellner says.

She arrived at her apartment in SoHo and found Woody Allen there to greet here (he was filming a movie in the neighborhood). She admits that she had a thing for Allen — so she took as it a sign she was in the right place. The school was the French Culinary Institute, which she graduated from in October of 2004. It was an eye-opening experience for Goellner because she didn’t grow up baking.

“It was in a real kitchen, like going to work. And so, imagine you’re going to work every day and getting yelled at,” Goellner says. “But I can be yelled at, it’s OK.”

When she came back to Kansas City, she decided to launch her own business — Natasha Goellner Wedding Cakes. Her first commercial kitchen was in SubTropolis, where she would arrive before the sun rose and leave after sunset. There’s only so long one can stay cheery driving into a dark cave.

So Goellner enlisted the aid of her family and decided to open Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott on 39th Street. Her mother, Vicki, joined her in the kitchen, and her dad, who owns his own construction business, helped build out the space. The bakery opened in 2005 with a heater that was on the fritz, a concrete floor that seeped oil from its previous existence as a body shop, and an open kitchen that had Natasha talking to customers while cooking.

As her wedding-cake business grew and the bakery got a reputation for its cookies, she began to consider other, newer spaces. On Christmas eve of 2007, she signed a lease to move into Mission Farms. The shop opened the following year with a colorful array of macarons — the classic French sandwich cookies typically filled with jam or buttercream.

In addition to pastries, Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott sells ice cream, seasonal jams, and a monthly dessert CSA. Over the past few years, Goellner has defined the shop’s identity and taken a stand about what the shop will and won’t sell. Gone are the vanilla cupcakes that used to be available in six-packs only.

“I didn’t go to culinary school to sell cupcakes,” Goellner says, “I know people get angry when I say we don’t have them, but it’s not what I wanted to do. I want to give them something they’ve never had.”

So as part of that mission, she’s taking her macarons to the Plaza with a pop-up shop for the holidays. The new location will open on October 1 at 4745 Central (in the former visitor’s information center across from the Zoom toy store) and stay open until January 15. The 500-square foot space won’t have a kitchen, but will be stocked with pastries and sell drip coffee.

“We’re now known for doing different desserts, and I feel like we’re more established,” Goellner says. “I’ve wanted to be on the Plaza for a long time, and I’m excited to see if this can be a permanent shop.”

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