How Do Bakery Owners Stay Spry When There's Dessert Everywhere?

June 16, 2017

We're asking real people for the little things they do to stay sane and feel good amidst an overload of often confusing health-related information.

Today, we catch up with Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga, the founders of the award-winning bakery Ovenly and the geniuses behind our favorite happens-to-be vegan chocolate chip cookie.

First thing's first: What does "living a healthy lifestyle" mean to you?

Agatha Kulaga: ​For me, it’s all about a balanced approach to pretty much everything in life. I love to dig into a buttery, flaky croissant just as much as I enjoy a green juice in the morning. I try not to place restrictions on what I should or shouldn’t indulge in, I just try to keep my body (errr, stomach) and mind happy and healthy.

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Erin Patinkin:​ It means eating whole foods, nothing processed, and exercising. We don’t watch our weight, per se, but we do watch what goes into our bodies. Except when we travel. We eat and drink everything when we travel.

What's one wellness trend you wish would go away immediately?

AK: ​Chia seeds are invading far too many foods in the grocery aisle.

EP:​ Cleanses! Our bodies are efficient machines, the idea that a one-week cleanse does anything seems absurd to me.

And what's one that you're glad is here?

AK: ​Fermented foods and probiotics (I’m a big fan of gut health). I like to think they help with digesting nachos and margaritas better.

EP: ​It started a while ago with Michael Pollan’s book Food Rules, but “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” That is the most healthful view of food we can think of and we pretty much abide by it. (Cake is a plant some days, though. Don’t judge.).

How has the way you've thought about well-being changed since you were growing up?

AK: ​Growing up in the 80s and 90s meant serious exposure to processed low-fat and fat-free foods (fat-free cheese, potato chips, and mayonnaise come to mind). There was a real fear that foods containing fat were bad for you. Very little value was placed on what good health actual meant—it was all about cutting calories and fat, regardless of the consequences it had on your body.

Thankfully, we’ve returned to a time when more emphasis is placed on whole foods that nurture both the body and mind. I embrace full-fat dairy and butter!

I think my 17-year-old self would be shocked at the 180° turn I’ve taken with my health.
Erin Patinkin

EP:​ I was obese in high school and part of college. I hail from strong Jewish and Eastern European stock (think fried latkes and buttered dumplings) and I’m also from the Midwest (think Hamburger Helper and lots of Taco Bell), so I really didn’t understand what a healthful diet was. Plus, my personal interests laid in theater performance and definitely not in soccer; that meant I not only did I eat a lot of garbage foods like a lot of teenagers do, but also that I didn’t work off any of those empty calories. The result: I was very overweight and hated how I looked and felt.

When I was a senior in high school I made a conscious decision to become healthier; I became a vegetarian and gave up pop, which I drank every day many years. I started to read cookbooks and historical texts about farming and food processing. In college, when I finally had my own kitchen, I started to cook—a lot—and learn more about produce through the growers at the incomparable farmers market in Madison, Wisconsin.

Slowly, I learned how to prepare (and eat) seasonal and local foods. I liked how eating well made me feel, and then my more athletic friends taught me how to enjoy personal exercise. It took years, but my habits totally changed along with my weight. I think my 17-year-old self would be shocked at the 180° turn I’ve taken with my health.

And what about since starting and growing your business? How has working in the dessert industry affected how you think about "healthy" eating?

AK: ​Since the birth of Ovenly, we have had one approach: Create baked goods that we would eat ourselves and not feel bad about consuming on a regular basis. Everything that goes into our products are whole food ingredients that can be appreciated in moderation, along with a lot of love.

EP:​ Moderation is key. If we know we’re going to have a day of tastings, we try to hold off on eating processed sugar (within reason) for the rest of the week. Both of us also try to combat all those chef’s events and cake tests by cooking a lot at home, where we can control what goes in our stomachs.

One of my go-to dishes is a version of Brooks Headley’s charred broccoli and eggplant, which is serious comfort food disguised as a healthy vegetable dish.
Agatha Kulaga

What's something "healthy" that you've been doing (or eating) since before it was mainstream?

AK: ​I’ve been doing pilates since I moved to NYC over sixteen years ago, which makes me feel grounded, both physically and mentally. I also tend to (unintentionally) speed walk everywhere I go. It gives me clarity and reminds me of how amazing this city is.

EP:​ Meditation and mindfulness. A lifetime of theatrical training taught me both from a very young age.

What's one thing you do to make yourself feel better when you're feeling down or just sort of bleh?

AK: ​My cure for feeling bleh is taking a long walk with my dog, Pax, until one of us gets too tired to walk any further. My walking strategy is to ensure there is always a stop for soft serve somewhere along the route.

EP:​ I basically have been stressed out for the last seven years (fact: we founded Ovenly seven years ago) and running or cardio exercise is my cure-all. Even five minutes changes my brain constitution.

What do you cook to make your body feel better? After you've eaten a thousand cookies?

AK: ​After I’ve eaten a ton of sweets—which happens a lot when you work at a bakery—all I want is salty, protein-packed food. One of my go-to dishes is a version of Brooks Headley’s charred broccoli and eggplant, which is serious comfort food disguised as a healthy vegetable dish.

EP:​ I love to make a huge farmer’s market salad with whatever is in season. Right now, in early summer, I’ve been tossing kale, farm-fresh hard-boiled eggs, grilled halloumi, sliced garlic scapes, grilled spring onions, fava beans, and a bunch of chopped basil and chives with a turmeric-tahini-lemon dressing.

Any little remedies you swear by?

AK: ​I’m on a royal jelly and bee pollen kick and also swear by magnesium for calm and stress relief before bed.

EP: ​Neti pot-ing for congestion. So gross. Totally works.

Last question: What's your go-to hangover cure?

AK: ​One tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in filtered water, followed by an egg sandwich and donut from Peter Pan. If that doesn’t help, a Mexican coke will.

EP​: Five-minute run (force yourself), a liter of water, a bodega breakfast sandwich, binge watching something on Netflix.

What's your hangover cure? Tell us in the comments below!

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1 Comment

Margot W. June 16, 2017
Haha! My younger sister is a pastry chef at Sofra and is a personal trainer on the side, so I guess that's how she stays fit.