&Convo with Catriona Kalmanovitch
The first edibles I made for myself were tiny chocolate chip cookies that packed an unexpected punch. Since they were homemade, I don’t know how strong they were, but definitely stronger than the maximum 5.5mg allowed for recreational use in the state of Massachusetts. As a Seattle transplant, I remember going to stores in Washington and finding100 mg bottles of infused sodas. I’d buy a six-pack of 10mg infused sparkling apple juice or some infused malt balls. The variety of edibles matched the variety of strains. All this to say the regulations for edibles in the state of Massachusetts are very limiting. With Edibles so heavily regulated, you see the same basic things in every store: gummies and hard candy. Occasionally, you run across a drink, maybe a chocolate bar. I did actually find some great seltzers recently, but primarily it’s gummies. So when I found out that there was a cannabis baker baking cookies and even macarons I was ecstatic.
I want you to imagine a caring grandmother, think matriarch from a family-friendly 90s sitcom, take that energy, and put it into the body of a brunette millennial with a wide smile. You now have Catriona Kalmanovitch. In an industry dominated by countless white business savvy libertarian males (a Convo for another time), Cati is a breath of fresh air. Cati, like others in the industry, is pushing back against the super-clean white-washed Apple store-esque environments we normally see in the legal cannabis industry, and she’s doing it by making edibles with love. I got the opportunity to chill with her, nom on some of her uninfused test recipes, and talk more about who she is, why Worcester, and why edibles.
Chris: So who are you and why do you bake?
Cati: I think I was always supposed to be involved with food. I was born in a city called Grand Forks, grew up in a town called Manyberries, and lived in Worcester since I was 4 so I’m a chef that can actually pronounce worcestershire sauce. I was taught by my grandmother how to cook. She owned a railway station in the middle of nowhere Canada and honestly, I think she needed to know that as she got older someone would be there to make her tea and cook for her. She not only taught me how to cook though because even if we have the same recipe, HOW you cook and the love you put into it is what makes the dish memorable.
Chris: What was the recipe that made you know this was the path for you?
Cati: Floating Islands. I made this with my grandmother when I was 10 or 11 and was amazed by what ingredients could do. It's a poached meringue floating in a sea of creme anglaise and covered with spun sugar. It's such simple ingredients, but it was so cool to see how they changed and that we made this crazy concoction that was also delicious. That was the moment I fell in love with baking and pastries.
Chris: Do you have a patisserie hero and favorite cooking show?
Cati: I'm inspired by Kriss Harvey, Antonio Bachour, Cedric Grolet. I'm also a total fangirl for Dana Pollack of Dana's Bakery and my show is Great British Bake Off, all day every day. We have a picture of Mary Berry above our mixer here at Affinity. I just love how gentle the program is and how nice they all are to each other. It was my go-to show when I was working on the boats if I had had a really bad day and bakes just weren't working right. The theme song is also my ringtone.
Chris: So how did you get here to Affinisweets?
Cati: Well originally I went to college and got a communications degree. After graduation, I got a job selling paper. I didn’t get the office life, my first job was with Dunkin and I loved the fast-paced environment of restaurants. After I got into a car accident someone asked me what I was actually passionate about - and I knew it wasn’t selling paper. I needed to make a change, and I chose to go to culinary school. It was a huge risk, but then I realized I was actually really good!
((Just want to note that, she is being very humble here. I am not a fan of macarons, but I love Cati’s macarons. These are the things that according to her everyone can’t get enough of, and she can’t fully try them because of allergies!))
Cati (continued): I graduated top of my class and accepted an internship. On the third day, the pastry chef quit and I was suddenly in charge, as an intern. We would have about 100 people every day show up and it was just me and a group of interns in the back. This has been the story of my career, no mentor coming alongside me to help, just me trying to figure all of this out. I tell my assistants to learn from my fail, because if I have done it - I have done it wrong at some point. So after that experience, I got a job at Harvard Sweets Boutique in Hudson, at the time they had 10 offerings and when I left they had more than 300. This was during the cupcake craze where you could do anything to a cupcake and people will buy it. After that, I spent a year in England to take care of my grandmother. Then I came back, worked at a hotel for that experience, and for the last four years, I have been working on boats.
Chris: You jumped around a lot and got to see cool things, so what brought you back to Worcester?
Cati: Well Covid happened! I enjoyed working on the boats and baking in Alaska, Costa Rica, Panama, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, and Baja Mexico. I would work 22 hours a day to give the guests the coolest things. These trips are things that would be on people’s bucket lists and I didn’t care if you were a millionaire or just won the lottery. I wanted to give you the best experience possible. The guest would see whales, bears, glaciers falling into the water so I wanted to make sure that eating was treated like an adventure too. I was in Mexico in March of 2019 and was kicked out of the country. I knew because of Covid; cruises, restaurants, bakeries would be gone. I even applied for a pizza delivery job - I just needed to work and then I found my current job with Affinity as their culinary manager. They have given me free rein to bring my vision of what infused should be.
Chris: Speaking of your vision, do you have any teases for things we can expect in the future?
Cati: Infused truffles, the S'mores cookie, and donuts. The donuts are a far-off dream, but I think I can make it work and if it doesn't at least it will be tasty and fun research.
Chris: That all sounds amazing, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. Your pastries are amazing and I can’t wait to see what you come up with next. Worcester is definitely a sweeter place with people like you in it!
Learn more about Cati here
Learn more about Affinity here