As a child, magic fascinated me. The conjuring of something out of thin air, the art of illusion, the mixing together of disparate substances to create something wholly new. I would read stories or sit in front of the television and my imagination would run wild with the idea that maybe, just maybe, I could possess some set of powers one day. But I simply couldn’t wait for a wizard to knock down my door and let me know about my destiny, so I set out to the kitchen to make potions all my own. Off I’d march, straight to the spice cabinet, and empty every jar I could find into our kitchen’s largest mixing bowl. My mother, bless her, always tasted these concoctions with an open heart and a closed esophagus. Each and every elixir was a success.
These experiments – to use a generous term – began to serve as something necessary to me. Before I even knew I was gay, my parents divorced, and it left my siblings and me in our own isolated spheres. Around the same time, with the advent of the internet (and my mother’s upgrading of our basic cable package), I found access to a new type of media in which I’d only dabbled before: food. I held a deep fascination for several culinary media personalities – and later bloggers – who eventually served as my foundation in the kitchen. I didn’t recognize this at the time, but this newfound knowledge coupled with my lust for gastronomic anarchy, became its own form of therapy.
As I entered adolescence and my capacity to learn grew, I applied myself to baking more and more. Family birthday cakes grew into end-of-year teacher gifts, which grew into charity bake sales, which grew into catering larger school functions. My aptitude and love for these little magic tricks evolved yet again, from a basic creative outlet into a social bridge. Baking began to serve not only as a way to turn inward, but as a way to put something out into the ether as well. Despite my own nonchalance toward the pleas of my family (and those who had at least openly enjoyed a cookie or two), it was during these years that I first began to consider food as a means of moving through the world.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t immediately follow this instinct. I left the idyllic summers of Nantucket (the birthplace of what would become my very own bakery one day) for New York, where I set off to become a screenwriter. Still, food remained a constant. Every job I had in college featured a weekly goodie thanks to yours truly. When I ended up working in television production after graduation, it was three years of these office treats (and the smiles I saw them create) that led me to pursue baking as an actual vocation. Sure, high school provided me with happy mouths to feed, but doing so in the real(er) world, as an adult, provided me fulfillment I hadn’t yet experienced.
Looking back at those initial childhood experiments, it’s hard to imagine Little Me envisioning what would one day become Red Gate Bakery. What’s impossibly easy, though, is recognizing these bouts of wonder (and sometimes furor!) as my first moments of self-expression. I wasn’t aware of my own sexuality yet, but I certainly felt a difference inside of me and used the kitchen (my laboratory! My sanctuary!) as a refuge. There was only room for myself and my creativity (and the occasional dog swooping into vulture whatever had just splattered onto the floor).
How can I look at what I do today – run a business that allows for near-constant self-expression – and not feel anything but profound gratitude? It has served as a remedy for ills I have felt during all stages of my life, and I hope that it will continue to do so for the problems that I’m sure to face in my future. I am tremendously lucky in this respect. But I am also lucky to have been able to recognize the pleasure that mixing and mashing and boiling and beating bring me, and the endless forms to which all these different journeys can lead. Red Gate has offered, and continues to offer, a new path to hurtle toward almost every time I enter the kitchen, and I can’t imagine a better way for me to explore this side of myself. And if someone walks through the door each day to see just which path that is, well that’s just gravy.
Greg Rales is the Chef, Owner and Founder of Red Gate Bakery in Manhattan.