Pastry Chef Tracy Dempsey, owner of Tracy Dempsey Originals, has started offering virtual baking classes. This is a big deal.
Dempsey has been a pastry chef since 1999, working at Valley restaurants like Lon’s at the Hermosa, Hapa Restaurant, and Cowboy Ciao. In 2009, she opened her own confection shop, where she makes desserts for several Phoenix-area restaurants. Her products can also be found at Sphinx Date Co. Palm & Pantry, Changing Hands Bookstore, and the cafe at Tempe Center for the Arts.
Before the pandemic, Dempsey used to offer one or two hands-on cooking and baking classes per month in her commercial kitchen.
She had to discontinue those this spring, for obvious reasons. But a month ago, at the insistence of her customers (who had purchased large gift certificates during the shutdown), Dempsey opted to offer a virtual baking class.
“Virtual teaching just seemed daunting at first,” Dempsey says.
Participating in an Arizona Wine Growers Association workshop changed her mind about that. She took people on a virtual tour of ODV Wines (a section of her store managed mostly by her husband) and had so much fun she decided to try teaching a baking class herself.
Dempsey and her assistant, Brad Ottesen, started with a cake-decorating class. They baked the cake rounds, made the buttercream, and put together kits for pickup one to two days before class. Ten people registered. Over Zoom, they decorated their cakes.
Dempsey thought the students would need more time than the allotted two hours, but everybody completed their decorations. Most people had their camera on. Some were even enjoying a cocktail. It was a success.
“But the best part,” says Dempsey, “was seeing the familiar faces of my regulars. We don’t see them [anymore]. Even if they purchase from the website, they have to pickup curbside."
Plus, there's more people involved. Her in-person classes were limited to 10, but the virtual ones can accommodate 25 to 30 people.
Classes cost $65 and are typically held from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Registration ends on Friday the previous week. Baking kits are ready for pickup on the Thursday and Friday before class. Out-of-towners can register at a discounted price. They're sent the recipes and can watch the class as a demo.
In her upcoming virtual course, titled "Galette Dinner and Dessert," Dempsey will teach participants how to make one savory and one sweet galette — a freeform pie or tart crust partially wrapped over a filling that's popular in French cuisine. Students may choose to make one of three savory galettes (Crow’s Dairy Goat Cheese with mushrooms and bacon is one of them) and three sweet galettes, including potentially a blueberry-peach.
Deadline for the galette class is 5 p.m. on Friday, August 14. It will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 22. Dempsey will have salad and wine pairing recommendations, too. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.)
Dempsey says she plans to offer more cooking classes in the future, like a meal prep for two course.
"It was so nice to see everybody smiling and have everybody together again," she says. "You build a relationship with your customers. And I miss them.”
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