Ginger and Baker: Serving up something special


Caroline Sears

359 Linden St, Fort Collins, CO 80524

By Caroline Sears, Fossil Ridge High School

Ginger and Baker in downtown Fort Collins is cooking up something special. The culinary director, or head chef, sat down to answer a few questions. “Chef Deb” settled into the teaching kitchen, where she teaches classes weekly. This includes classes like “Winter in Tuscany,” where customers learn to make hearty Italian soup and creamy Tuscan chicken pasta. With so many students at Fossil Ridge High School learning how to cook with classes like “Gourmet Foods” and “Foods, Nutrition, and Wellness,” Chef Deb Traylor teaches fun classes to further expand your skills and share your passion.

When asked about her life as a culinary student, she explained, “When I was six I lived in South Texas, I’m a Texan. My mom used to work, she was a single mom, and I used to watch Julia Child.” She described a time when she saw a chicken in the sink after watching the Julia Child chicken episode and prepared it for her hardworking mom. “Right then at six, I knew, cooking made people happy.” She described a life of constantly being in the kitchen and exploring with food, stating, “so when I was eleven, my mom started buying me used cookbooks. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to be since I was six was a chef.”

Caroline Sears
“Chef Deb” spends her days at Ginger and Baker cooking, teaching classes, and perfecting her work.

She shared the memories of being eager to go to Paris and go to culinary school from the day she graduated high school. However, she was from a small, working-class town in Texas. She ended up going to college and meeting someone, then eventually getting married and having a daughter, while still aspiring to become a chef. She continued to describe the unexpected events of her life with just as much excitement or emotion as the day they happened. When she was 38, her mom called. Chef Deb said, “She was really ill and we knew she was gonna die, and she said ‘You need to go do what you always wanted to do,’ I’m gonna cry. She left me the money to go to culinary school. It took me about two years to not worry about wasting the money, then I went to culinary school. By then I had my masters degree, I did a 6-month program in Boulder and then an internship in Avignon, France.”

She continued, “I went to Paris, I was 40 years old.” There were few jobs for women at the time so she had to prove herself more so than everyone else, explaining, “I came back from culinary school and really quickly got a job with the founder of Silver Oak Wine Cellars in Napa.” From then on, she cooked for people with private jets and yachts, even the president of Colorado State University, then for Jack and Ginger Graham, the founders of Ginger and Baker. “I don’t think I’m the world’s best cook, I think there are so many people I hire that are better than I will ever be but I’m responsible and you can trust me, and I think that’s what got me my position. I also think I tend to bring people into kitchens, I want them to taste and I want us to talk about it. For me, food is a connection. That’s how I became a chef,” she concluded. The passion she spent her entire life pursuing is not only for cooking but creating connections with others.

I tend to bring people into kitchens, I want them to taste and I want us to talk about it. For me, food is a connection. That’s how I became a chef.”

— Chef Deb

Then, she answered a difficult question for anyone passionate about their work: “What’s your favorite part of your job?” Her answer was similar to what she communicated throughout the entire interview – connections with others. “The other thing that I love about cooking is that every day is a new day, your projects are really short and small so you are constantly readjusting and fixing,” she stated. But, as for every job, there are difficulties and challenges. She describes the hardest part is the not-so-constructive criticism she has received. Customers think that you just want to know whether they liked something. She added, “But, for me, who’s always looking for feedback on food, I need to know was it too salty, or was it too crunchy, or was it too dry.” Although she has been perfecting her craft for years, she continues to try and change and fix things every day, adding, “I really love the immediate feedback, and the thing that’s really hard is the immediate feedback”.

Chef Traylor spoke about the start of Ginger and Baker and its goal as part of the community: to welcome Fort Collins and connect all of its residents. “It grew from being this little pie idea to being the coffee shop and gift shop, teaching kitchen and then the restaurants,” Traylor explained. The evolution first began when Chef Deb was the private chef for Ginger Graham, the restaurant’s founder. The establishment soon evolved from a “pie shop” to a place where people mingle, laugh, and of course, enjoy some delicious food. She stated, “We want you to feel, honestly, that you’re welcome here. You’re a friend, you’ve got this, this is your place too.”

Caroline Sears
Pick up some delicious treats for the holidays or come to a fun class at the teaching kitchen this season!

Finally, she answered a question for of all of the students at Fossil eager to chase their dreams and make something happen, just like Chef Deb did. “Do a lot of research, read every book you can about the industry, learn the science of cooking. If you can, try to intern or stage. So, if you are interested in being a chef, make sure you know the basics. You don’t have to go to culinary school, but you need to immerse yourself in a place that knows the basics,” the chef advised. Students around Fossil are already expressing their passion for cooking every day, and as Traylor explained, “You’re gonna hear ‘no’ a lot, get used to it…as a chef, people will often give you their opinions and you have to be humble enough to accept that, process it, and move on.” She reconciled all of the chances that have come through her life, and the ones she has taken that led her here, claiming, “I waited 34 years to be a chef, and I still did it…I think a fear of failure is what keeps people from trying and the one thing I want my daughters to know is that it’s okay, we are gonna fall and we’re gonna fail, and we’re gonna try again.”

Her final words of advice were for all students and people eager to pursue their dreams: “Have a plan, every day you’re either thinking about it, reading about it, dreaming, whether you believe in prayer or not, it’s that intention that today you’re going to learn something new… Your first inclination is to say yes and never do it. But if you say yes and maintain contact and do it, even if it a little financially hard or it takes a little time or it’s not the perfect time, you still go yes!”

Chef Deb Traylor embodies the talent and passion in Fort Collins. Chef Deb preaches that taking advantage of your dreams is easy as pie.

This story was originally published on Etched in Stone on December 20, 2018.