Amy Edelman//photo by steve legato
Best Pastry Chef Amy Edelman whisks, bakes and creates in her charming Night Kitchen Bakery. But the story behind the thriving Chestnut Hill business goes way beyond her 15 years there.
MLT: The Night Kitchen Bakery became yours in 2000. Why was purchasing this bakery so perfect for you?
AE: I always wanted to own a business but I didn’t know what form that would take. When the opportunity to buy the Night Kitchen Bakery came along, it struck me as a perfect fit. It had a great reputation for high-quality desserts—it opened in 1981, when I was in high school—and was located in a neighborhood that I love. It was a successful business that needed to be taken to the next level, and I was up for the challenge. It was win-win.
MLT: This was a bit of a homecoming for you then?
AE: After spending seven years globe-trotting, I was happy to set down roots. I spent a lot of time in Chestnut Hill as a child, growing up in nearby Mount Airy. I love Philadelphia and its neighborhoods and suburbs.
MLT: What gigs did you take on prior to bakery ownership?
AE: I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America with a culinary degree, which covered pastry basics but focused on cooking savory foods. Over the years at various hotels and restaurants (Boca Raton Resort & Club in Florida, the InterContinental Hotel in New York City, and Euro Disney in France), I gravitated toward baking and pastry and fell in love with it.
MLT: Was baking always in your blood?
AE: My grandmother baked quite a bit, so I have lots of grandma dessert memories, like her warm summer peach cobbler, which she served with a pitcher of cream, and her yellow cake, which reminds me of the Night Kitchen’s yellow cake.
MLT: Speaking of the Night Kitchen’s cakes, there’s a particular one—the lemon curd—that started your love affair with this shop. What’s so special about it?
AE: My mother got me a Night Kitchen lemon curd cake for my 30th birthday—three years before I bought the bakery. I couldn’t stop thinking about that cake. From that moment forward, it was one of my favorite foods in the world. And, luckily, the purchase of the bakery included the beloved recipes. We continued to make the cakes, cookies, bars and breakfast items on which the previous owners built the Night Kitchen’s reputation. We just added to the repertoire. In a few years, we added about 30 percent more items, from a classic chocolate-chip cookie to my fairly famous banana-chocolate bread pudding.
MLT: What would you consider your top accomplishment with owning the Night Kitchen?
AE: When people tell me how much they love the Night Kitchen, they so often compliment the lemon curd and mocha mousse cakes with such love in their eyes. Some of our customers have been getting these cakes since 1981, when the bakery opened, and they still love them. People often tell me that they got their wedding cakes from us and that they are returning to order custom cakes for their showers, children’s birthdays, bar and bat mitzvahs, and christenings.
MLT: We hear that, in 2002, business got even better, perhaps due to another love affair of your own?
AE: I met chef John Millard less than six months after I bought the bakery. He came on board full time about a year later. As a self-taught chef and avid reader of cookbooks, John knew a lot about the science behind cooking and baking. His experience in excellent kitchens like the White Dog and Odeon made for a smooth transition from savory foods to sweets. It was a natural fit for John to begin baking, and he took to it naturally. These days, John is a guy Friday—he does it all—baking, making wedding-cake deliveries and bookkeeping.
MLT: What sort of food trends have you encountered over the years?
AE: When I bought the bakery 15 years ago, no one knew what fondant was. Now, half of the cakes we create each week are custom designs with fondant, and the artistry that my pastry chefs produce is amazing. The designs are often original and created to match invitations or particular themes.
MLT: Then there’s the whole gluten-free craze, right?
AE: Yes, we have had the challenge of creating delicious baked goods without flour. We have been working on a few gluten-free items to accommodate frequent requests, including a dense, rich flourless chocolate cake, rice pudding, almond macaroons and coconut macaroons.
MLT: What’s the one baking ingredient you can absolutely not live without?
AE: Chocolate. It’s the most used ingredient after butter, sugar and flour.
MLT: And we can get our chocolate fix in pudding form now.
AE: A couple of years ago, when the Philadelphia Flower Show theme was Great Britain, I was inspired to create a dulce-de-leche pudding. Another one of my chefs devised recipes for our rice pudding, chocolate pudding and sticky toffee pudding. They’ve been a hit since.