Upscale pastry chef Catherine Schimenti left home on Long Island at 17, only to return 20 years later to open her new bakery, Baked by the Ocean, in Long Beach.
Admitting that “cooking has always been in my blood,” the down-to earth Schimenti, with her signature red-frame glasses and long braids, says she was encouraged by her parents as well as a teacher at Lynbrook High School to make her living in the kitchen.
“I always helped my mom do the baking, cooking at home,” she recalls. “It’s always been natural for me to make food for people.”
Schimenti, now 38, got an early start in the restaurant business working in a local pizzeria before scoring her first cooking gig as a teen at the now-defunct Porthole restaurant in East Rockaway. She did her culinary training at Johnson & Wales University in Providence before switching in her final year to focus on pastry arts exclusively.
“As opposed to traditional cooking, which is more like just turning a raw product into something,” says Schimenti, “there’s a real science to pastry, the blending of ingredients.”
Schimenti’s career took her to some of the finest restaurants, from Balthazar and Gramercy Tavern to Per Se in New York City, before being tapped to oversee pastry at Craft Steak in the Meatpacking District. Her pastry menu was so well received that Schimenti was summoned to Los Angeles to assist with Craft Steak’s LA debut.
“Moving to California was a big deal for me,” recalls Schimenti, who prides herself on being an LI girl.
Following Craft, she moved to San Francisco and joined the fourstar Michael Mina Restaurant as executive pastry chef and later helped to launch Mina’s Bourbon Steak. After arriving back in NY in 2016, Schimenti pursued her long-standing goal of opening her own bakery. She snagged an apartment in trendy SOHO and was “fully committed to looking for bakery space in NYC.”
While looking for real estate in the city, Schimenti consulted for Gelso & Grand in Little Italy, where she worked for a year, helping to revamp the restaurant’s pastry menu. She oversaw the creation of a nearly foot-long cannoli, which gave the venue some buzz.
“I continued to scout potential bakery spots on the Lower East Side, Tribeca, and even NOLITA,” she recalls, but prices were steep, often upwards of $20,000 rent per month. “I couldn’t find anything and that’s when I started coming out to LI every weekend, to
visit friends and family in Lynbrook and Long Beach.”
Schimenti eventually found her bakery location with a little help from her friend.
“I went to dinner and a friend ended up parking in front of a bakery with a for-lease sign,” she recalls. “That didn’t work out, but it led me to my current spot.”
Now that she’s set, Schimenti says her philosophy on pastry is simple.
“I’m going to focus on accessible desserts such as fruit tarts, salted peanut butter tarts, lemon and lime meringue tarts, specialty cakes and even some soft-serve ice cream, sure to be a summer favorite,” she says. “Traditional things with a twist.”
Also, she’ll serve up favorites like black and white and rainbow cookies, macaroons, homemade chocolate boxes, freshly baked cinnamon rolls, and donuts. But the cozy space with seating for 12 won’t be all desserts.
“Savory foods will also be served, such as salads of the day, toasts of the day, Quinoa bowls with veggies and brunch items on weekends,” she says.
And while many chefs are drawn to the glamour of TV, Schimenti eschews show biz.
“I was approached by producers who wanted me for a few cooking shows due to my ‘polished yet approachable,’ attitude, but my focus is on the bakery, not TV,” she adds. “I want my food to speak for itself.”
Baked by the Ocean, scheduled to open in late May, is located at 919 West Beech St. in Long Beach. They can be reached at 516-889-BAKEor bakedbytheocean.com.