(photo credit: Styleblueprint)

As we settle into warmer weather and extend our time at home, baked goods and treats are playing a more central role in our daily menus. Light or lush, tangy or transporting, the croissants, pastries, cookies, cakes and pies prepared by Pastry Chef Kristen Farmer Hall of The Essential and Bandit Patisserie are some of the most sought after in town. The Market’s Featured Chef this week, Kristen got her start in 2013 when she launched Baking Bandits, as a sort of fun fine baked goods business experiment with her two young daughters. Baking Bandits quickly developed a following. Fueled by a knack for sharing the beauty and soulfulness of her pastries on social media, Kristen and her sweet treats began selling out wherever she popped up. During her first season as a vendor at the Market at Pepper Place, shoppers knew to come early; by 10am she’d already be sold out of everything she brought.

As a pastry chef, Kristen has a gift. Her pastries are beautiful, flavorful and satisfying. She also knows how to capture them in dreamy photos for Instagram, and write about them elegantly, in language that touches and inspires: #smallthings and #madewithlove are her hashtags. When she teamed up with Chef Victor King a few years ago to open a tiny restaurant downtown, Feast & Forest, once again diners couldn’t get enough. The restaurant’s success prompted expansion to a slightly larger, more sophisticated dining spot, The Essential, which they opened in 2018. The Essential right away received rave reviews, and Kristen and Victor seemed to have found their niche. In her heart, however, Kristen was a pastry chef who longed a larger kitchen to create the range and volume of baked goods her customers craved. So, last fall, she and Victor opened Bandit Patisserie in Homewood. Customer response again was glowing. People lined up for her croissants, luscious tarts and addictive snickerdoodles. Life was good and full of #smallthings. While Kristen was raising a family and baking around the clock, she made time to give back too, raising money for non-profits she cared about, like Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

Now, in the midst of COVID, Kristen and Victor are struggling like most restaurateurs. They recently decided to close the Bandit Patisserie location for now and focus on keeping The Essential going, with curbside pickup and socially distanced patio dining starting in June. Kristen’s commitment to sourcing from local growers and producers remains strong – she is a local producer too. And she won’t cut back on helping others as long as she is able. This weekend at the Drive-Thru Market, she’s rallied top bakers and pastry chefs around the city to donate a variety of beautiful baked goods for a fundraiser she’s calling BHAM BAKE SALE, with proceeds going to Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

Pastry Chef Kristen Hall will be at the Market at Pepper Place throughout the 2020 season. When she’s not at the Market, you can sample her savory and sweet creations at The Essential for curbside pickup, and eventually dining inside the restaurant and on the patio.