In Part 1, we learned about Rebecca Masson's journey that would take her from the slopes of Breckenridge, to one of the finest culinary schools in the world and, eventually, to Houston.
Here in Part 2, we'll find out how she became a contestant on "Top Chef: Just Desserts" and sought crowd-funding to take Fluff Bake Bar from a rented kitchen space to a storefront bakery on Gray Street.
By the way, Masson has been a long-time supporter of the dog rescue organization Lucky Dog and has hosted several dinners along with other volunteer chefs to benefit the organization. The tenth (and final) of these dinners is on October 26th. Keep a watch on the Fluff Bake Bar Twitter feed for the announcement that they're going on sale. If you've never been to one of these, they are always an amazing, multi-course experience.
EOW: So, we can thank Ryan Pera for bringing you to Houston. What happened after you went to *17?
RM: Ryan decided to leave so we all disbanded. I ran the pastry programs at Catalan and Ibiza for just under a year and then Central Market called and courted me. I ran that pastry department for about a year-and-a-half.
When I decided to leave Central Market, I was working part-time with Jason Gould at Gravitas. At the same time, I was trying to do my own thing and make cakes at my house.
Claire Smith called and offered me the job of being the pastry chef at Canopy and Shade, which I did for a very short time.
I still was wondering "Do I really want to do this on my own?" I went to Boston to interview for a job at a well-known restaurant. My stage and interview started at 7 a.m. At 2 a.m., I was finally allowed to go back to my hotel room. They offered me $34,000 a year to be the pastry chef and I said, "I'm 37 years old and am too old to have to live with four roommates. Thanks, but no thanks."
I came back to Houston and decided to try and make it on my own. That whole summer, I was selling cakes. Towards the end of that year, Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber approached me about making desserts to sell at Revival Market. This story continues on the next page.
EOW: I remember being grateful for Revival Market because it was the first consistent location where I could find your products.
RM: People still didn't know who I was, but they were starting to know my Fluffernutters [sandwich cookies]. In February, three years ago, Revival Market opened. I started renting kitchen space from Scott Tycer at Kraftsmen Bakery.
The first three months my products were at Revival Market, I kept having a recurring dream that Ryan and Morgan were just shoving my cookies and stuff in the walk-in and writing me a check because they didn't want me to feel bad because nobody was buying anything.
EOW: You have some evil insecurities playing on you!
RM: I'm a typical chef! I'm hugely insecure! If you walk up to me, I'll be like "Hey, I'm a badass!" and then I'll go home and think "Nobody likes my cookies. Are they really going to go home and eat them? Maybe they just bought them because I was standing there." It's true!
EOW: When you sell stuff through a third party, you're not getting customer interaction or feedback.
RM: Yeah! I read the crap on Yelp. There's a lot of good stuff written about us, but there's some pretty crappy stuff. I was called arrogant. I've been called rude. I'm sorry, you can't call me at 5:45 p.m. and ask for a cake at 6 a.m. It just doesn't work that way. I try to explain to people that I'm in a commissary and have X amount of time. I have to plan my production.
When we're in the new shop, we'll have cakes readily available that people can just come in and buy. Even then, it takes some time to make what we make. I'm not H-E-B and I'm not Central Market. I don't have 12 cakes jut sitting there ready for you to buy. My least favorite question in the world is "Do you have any cakes just laying around?" I'm like, "No. I wouldn't just leave a cake laying around. I love my cakes. I put them on pillows and pedestals and I pet them."
EOW: What happened after you got product placement at Revival Market?
RM: We got Inversion, too. Those are my two babies.
About three weeks after Revival opened, I'd been contacted by Top Chef: Just Desserts who said they were going to fly me to L.A. for an interview and sequester me for three days. They said, "You can have your phone and computer." Kelsey Hughes was working for me. She was still in culinary school. (Author's note: After graduating from The Art Institute of Houston, Hughes did a long stint at The Pass & Provisions and is now at Common Bond.)
I said, "I have to go away for three days. I'll have my phone, so you can call me." I couldn't tell anyone where I was going or what I was doing.
I went to L.A. and went through the Top Chef interview process. I came home and less than a month later, they called and said "We want you on the show." I was like, "Shit. I have this newborn baby called Fluff Bake Bar."
I wasn't supposed to tell Kelsey, but I had to. "This is what I'm going off to do," I said. "You can't talk to me for 30 days." We found another young lady, Amanda Medsger, to help. Luckily for us, it wasn't crazy-busy. We did as much ahead as we could. Kelsey is amazing for covering for me while I was gone.
And then I came home with a broken arm.
EOW: Oh no! What happened?
RM: In between episodes 1 and 2, we were doing a photo shoot on a trampoline, which was way fun. I hadn't jumped on a trampoline since I was a kid. But, when I stepped off the trampoline, the last step was an apple box that wasn't nailed to the floor. It came out from underneath me and I went down. I broke my left arm.
A couple of months later, they announced the show. That did wonders for Fluff Bake Bar. People started recognizing the name, me, my mom. My mom was shopping in the produce section at Central Market and someone came up and said "Do you have a daughter who's on TV right now?" My mom just kind of puffed up her chest and said, "Yes, I do!" I thought that was way cool--the best. I made some really good friends on Top Chef, too. I got kicked off because of the falafel, but I got to meet Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys) so, I'm cool.
EOW: How were things after you came back to running Fluff Bake Bar?
RM: Things started picking up. We added Southside Espresso, Double Trouble Caffeine & Cocktails and Agora. We do a dessert for Max's Wine Dive and another for Batanga. Fat Cat Creamery carries one of our cookies.
EOW: For their ice cream sandwiches, right?
RM: Yeah, we made one for them called Unicorn Bait. It's a not-so-sweet sugar cookie with birthday crumble and sprinkles in it.
We created a cookie called Couch Potato, too, initially for Eatsie Boys. It's potato chips, pretzels, corn flakes, marshmallows and chocolate chips.
We got the web site up. That helped a tremendous amount so we do a lot of direct-to-consumer sales now.
EOW: Let's talk about your Kickstarter campaign [which helped fund the upcoming Fluff Bake Bar storefront].
RM: We got funded in the last 10 hours of the campaign. It was kind of bananas. I guess every Kickstarter starts strong and dips in the middle.
EOW: You get that last push in the end.
RM: We got funded with about eight hours remaining, hugely in part thanks to a good friend of mine. He changed his pledge from $1,000 to $10,000. If people look [at your Kickstarter campaign] and say "Oh, look, they're not even close to what they need," they won't contribute. Why bother?
Instead, they saw, "Holy crap, they're really close. Now I can make a difference."
EOW: Everybody loves a winner.
RM: Right? People started coming out of the woodwork and donated substantial amounts--a chef-friend in Austin, a chef-friend here--I was, like "I didn't even know that they liked me." But we did it. We got funded.
At the time, I'd been in talks with a space. At the last minute, the people were like, "We really don't want to rent it."
I had to start over. That's why we said we'd start giving out Kickstarter rewards in February. I thought I had the space, but I didn't. I started looking around and that's when this spot on Gray Street came up.
EOW: And you're hoping to be open by Thanksgiving.
RW: God willing and the creek don't rise. I can still make pies out of Kraftsmen, but we hope to be open by Thanksgiving. We'll keep doing all the stuff we're doing--moon pies, fluffernutters, cake cups and cakes--but at night we want to offer something different. We want to do plated desserts with beer and wine, like a dessert "bar." Plated desserts are my passion.
EOW: You can do such awesome wine and beer pairings with desserts, too.
RW: Exactly. Speaking of pairings, Antonio Gianola will be our consulting sommelier. I fell in love with his amazing pairings at Catalan. We're also going to have guest chef nights, so once a month we will bring in a chef--either savory or sweet--and they'll do a takeover.
EOW: What do you want people to know about you or your business that they do not already know?
RW: I bust out in awesome dance moves in the kitchen. Ninja [my pastry assistant] can attest to this. It's like "white girl wasted" dancing, but whatever.
Baking is fun. I have days where it's stressful and the holidays are hard. Last weekend, we had 15 cakes go out the door, which is crazy, but for me, it's so much fun. "What can I make today? How many junk foods can I put into a cookie?" People either think I'm really ridiculous or really serious and I'm all of those things.