Jill Rostine likes to bake backwards. And no, we don’t mean she rolls pie crust behind her back. Rather than creating a menu for her bakery Good Food Co. and then sourcing the necessary ingredients, Rostine chooses what to bake solely based on what foods are in season.
“People ask me all the time, ‘What’s your favorite thing to eat or your favorite thing to bake?’” Rostine says. “And I feel like my favorite is the first one of the season. Like the first of the strawberries that are ripe. The real strawberries that were grown in the field with the sun on them, not the ones on the truck that are white and woody on the inside.”
Rostine is largely a self-taught baker (aside from a few baking classes at Michael's). Her zest for cooking goes back to her childhood experiences in the kitchen and memories of Sunday Suppers with her grandmother, from whom she draws a lot of her inspiration. “I just thought [cooking and baking] was part of how everyone grew up and skills that everyone learned as a young kid,” Rostine says. “But I learned that that wasn’t the case, and so I decided to cultivate those skills.”
Whisking her way around local shops in Columbia, Rostine began at Wildflower Bakery, then moved to Uprise Bakery as “the pastry girl,” then Hy-Vee, Bleu, Les Bourgeois and Sycamore before opening her own business.
“I wanted a gratifying career and to have a place where people came in for happy things,” Rostine says. “It sounds very simplistic, but that was sort of the mindset.”
We caught up with the pastry chef to chat about her love of brioche, chicken and dumplings and her Sunday Supper tradition.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? Butter. You know, people take shortcuts, and it doesn’t work. You have to have butter. I think care, quality and love, of course, also makes a difference.
Do you have a signature ingredient or technique? I think the brioche is maybe that. I make classic cinnamon rolls, but I also like variations on that with different fillings – different sweet fillings and savory fillings as well. I use a lot of local vegetables and cheese in those. But the brioche is kind of the vehicle for a whole line of things that I serve.
What’s the most intriguing or experimental dish you’ve made recently? Everything is experimental. I really follow the seasons, and whatever is available I work with. I just pair flavors that I think go together. As I was getting more experienced in baking, I discovered The Flavor Bible, which is like a dictionary of any ingredient you might want to use, and then it gives you flavor pairings that go with that. So you can look up “fennel,” and it’ll have under there “orange” and “fish.” It’s a good resource for sure.
What inspires your cooking? I start with what’s available from the farmers. I have a long relationship and a good friendship with Happy Hollow Farm. I lived out there for three years, and I was a farmhand there about seven years ago. Liz Graznak is the owner, and she and I are good friends. She does the CSA model, and I’ve been a CSA member for numerous years. That really promotes a different approach to cooking where you first see what’s available and then decide what you’re going to eat instead of saying, “I want spaghetti and meatballs, well let me go to the store and get some things for that.” It’s a total flip. So I’ve adopted that mentality, and that guides me in everything.
What is your first memory with food? There’s a legendary one about my grandma and chicken and dumplings. We spent a lot of time in the chicken coop gathering eggs and so forth, and when the chickens had reached the end of their time laying they would turn into stewing hens. She would butcher them, pluck them, do all of that stuff, and turn it into this awesome chicken broth. And then she had these dumplings that were flour, lard and water, just really simple and rolled on the countertop, and cut them into ragged shapes and dropped into the boiling pot of broth. It was amazing and so rustic. They were so delicious, and I can’t replicate it – I’ve tried. My mom said we just don’t have the same dirt on our counter. So maybe that’s the case, or that my granny just put her love into it. I would love to have them one more time.
What do you like to bake at home? I don’t bake as much at home, but I do cook at home. Because, you know, owning a bakery, there are always baked goods left, so my family gets plenty of that. But it is my tradition to do Sunday Supper every week with our family, our friends, whoever can come. My granny, as you might guess, is really influential for me. And she was the glue. Since she isn’t there, my family isn’t tight like they were when she was, and so I feel like I need to be the glue in my own family. So Sunday Supper has become a thing. I think it needs to continue always, and more people should do it.
What’s your favorite comfort food? I let other people make the food when I want to be comforted. Comfort food for me would be going out to dinner at Barred Owl [Butcher & Table]. Or the other day we went to Heuer’s [Country Store & Cafe in Sturgeon], and I had a massive bacon cheeseburger and steak fries.
What's your perfect day of eating in Columbia? Oh my. That’s so hard. I think it would have to be brunch down at Meriwether [Cafe & Bike Shop]. It’s not in Columbia, but it’s in Rocheport. It’s an easy drive. And then probably drinks and dinner at Barred Owl. I don’t think I could be a three meal a day person if I’m doing that though. But maybe I should add a slice of pizza in the middle of the day from Pizza Tree. Yeah, that’d be good.
How have you seen the local food scene evolve in Columbia over the past year? That’s a really interesting thing because what’s happening now is there’s sort of a next generation of local shops opening places like Barred Owl, myself and Meriwether. We are all people who have worked among some of the best restaurants around and have pretty much exhausted where you could work for someone else. And we’ve also honed a personal food philosophy through that experience, so there are these places popping up like that, which is really great. And the thing that’s wonderful about it is that it’s not a competitive atmosphere. We’re all on the same team, and there’s enough room for everyone to do what they’re trying to do. I think Columbia is unique in that there is this supportive restaurant community here, and the restaurant folks go to other people’s restaurants and support them and spread the word of mouth about what they’re doing, and I think that’s pretty phenomenal.
What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in Columbia? I think really what’s happening is just a reclaiming of food. I think traditional methods and simple preparations have always been the way people ate, and the industrialization of food and the convenience aspect sort of took over there for a while. Fads and trends kind of derailed the simplicity of food. I think people are sort of reclaiming that now, and I hope that continues with locally sourcing high quality meats and vegetables.
If you could tell home bakers one thing, what would it be? Don’t take shortcuts. They never pan out. The results are just not the same.
What are your future plans? My goal is to stay small, but to do what I’m trying to do to my highest capability. I’m trying to make my space more efficient, and I’m really projecting a whole-food approach to what I’m doing here. I started out just with the takeaway bakery with pastries and then the dessert bar in the evening, but through the summer we’re starting a lunch special with salads and soups. I’m trying to do things to the best of my abilities within my personal limits and keep the balance in life as well.
Good Food Co., 1023 E. Walnut Ste. 7, Columbia, Missouri, 573.355.0188, facebook.com/jillbakesgoodcakes