Forks up, Phoenix! Chow Bella and Roosevelt Row present the third annual Pie Social Saturday, November 3rd, from 2 to 6 p.m. on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. We've got an all-star line up of bakers making pies for you to taste, and from now til Pie Social, we'll introduce them to you, one by one.
Today: Kristen Campbell of St. Francis makes cheesecake batter.
For half the week Kristen Campbell, the baker and pastry chef at St. Francis, adopts the sleep cycle of the average American vampire. She's nocturnal. When we meet up with her we also realize quickly that she's not as chatty as other chefs tend to be. Then again, when you work alone in a kitchen during the hours of night when most of the world is tucked away in bed, it's probably a good thing to not be overly talkative.
Which isn't to say that Campbell isn't a friendly and charming woman - because she is. What it means is that she's the kind of chef the world could probably use more of, not focused on ego or making her name the next big thing, just trying to turn out great food that people will enjoy eating.
It also means that it took us over an hour to tease out one not so tiny detail about her: Kristen Campbell is a secret cowgirl.
"I can dress like a city girl and I can talk like a city girl," she says with a shrug. "But I can't always pull it off."
She has us fooled for more than an hour. Then again, at 1 a.m. we aren't at our most perceptive.
And yes, that's correct. We dropped in on Kristen during the beginning of her midnight to 7 a.m. shift, which meant rolling back out of bed around midnight and driving over to the restaurant on all but empty city streets. We knew chefs are notorious for having crazy hours, but really?
We're busy peering into the kitchen's back door when Campbell pops out from the darkness of an outdoor storage shed, making us jump.
"Oh, I'm sorry, did I scare you?" she asks. Uh, yes.
She ushers us into the kitchen, explaining on the way that she's having a bit of technical trouble tonight. Namely, the oven won't turn on. Since she's a baker, we could see that being quite a setback. So instead of whatever she was going to make, she set about on her other projects, making cheesecake batter and toffee sauce. Even at midnight they both sound good.
"There's a method to my madness," she assures us as we establish our bearings and she settles in to work.
We start with the basics as she deposits giant blocks of cream cheese into a proportionately giant stand mixer. Campbell graduated from Scottsdale Community College's culinary program and has been working at St. Francis since February last year. Before then she worked at the now-defunct Central Phoenix favorite, Local Breeze. Initially, she went to Northern Arizona University to study elementary education but her frustration with the education system made her realize she wanted to do something else.
"Every time I was stressed I was in the kitchen baking, cooking, or making bread," she says.
So she set her sights on culinary school. Though she looks quite young, Campbell is actually married with three stepsons who she says she likes to bake cupcakes with at home. Between her and her chef-husband, Campbell says everyday dinners end up being something much more magical. She describes them as "giant feasts."
She pauses from her work and turns around.
"You were missing yesterday," she says addressing a digital scale perched on a shelf in the kitchen.
It's these charming moments that make us smile and keep us digging at Campbell until finally, when she's already finished doling her cheesecake batter into Ball jars, she says something that makes us wonder. We're talking about her love of the Downtown community and it's small town feel when she says:
"Flagstaff was huge to me when I first moved there."
So we ask just how small her hometown really is and to put things in perspective, Campbell tells us her graduating high school class was considered big, and that it had six students.
Turns out this big city baker grew up on a cattle ranch in a tiny town. Like, real tiny. She tells us about how she always said she'd "never live in Phoenix," "wanted to stay a cowgirl," and hated childhood chores like building fence. A real cowgirl, eh? How about riding horses?
"Oh yeah," she says confidently, the only moment where we might have seen a little bit of this country girl's ego. "I was on a horse before I could walk."
Ok, so she's pretty legit. But we find we also have a lot in common with Campbell. For one, we've both seen every episode of Friends - in fact, Campbell falls asleep to the show every night. We also share a love for the community feel of the Downtown Phoenix neighborhood. For Campbell, it's a place where she can still feel a bit of her small town roots. By now she's finished both the batter and the sauce and tells us she's ready to move on to the bulk of her workload, baking breads.
We get ready to head home, already eager to get back into bed. Campbell walks us out telling us how excited her mother was her doing this interview. Once more we can't help but get a little case of the warm fuzzies for Campbell's calm charisma and not-so-obvious sense of humor. If it weren't so far past our bedtime, we'd have loved to stay for more.
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Oh yeah, and somewhere in there she did get that oven fixed.
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