Culinary choreography: Alumna pivots to build distinctive pastry business
Kaitlin Guerin ’14 is the creative force behind Lagniappe Baking Co., a boutique, small-batch pastry business that bakes at the intersection of a Michelin star-quality dining experience and a box of sweets to be enjoyed at home on the couch.
With creations like a slice of spiced, mandarin King Cake or a grapefruit, cream cheese and coconut caramel mousse cake, Guerin offers vibrant colors, complex textures and decadent flavors that are a uniquely choreographed sensory experience and reflect Guerin’s pivot from professional dancer to pastry chef.
“Much of this story starts at Skidmore,” said Guerin. “I knew I wanted to go to college for dance, and Skidmore is a top program. I was also interested in the science of movement and double-majored in exercise science.”
“My professors really encouraged me to explore my creativity,” she said. “That, along with being exposed to the amazing minds of friends I made, and the mix of other disciplines that I studied, like intergroup relations, really widened my world.”
After graduation, the New Orleans native moved to San Francisco to pursue dance. “I danced with several companies, and it was such a good experience. After three years, it dawned on me that as much as I love dance, it wouldn’t be a lasting career for me. But I’m still an artist, and I wanted to create. I’d always loved baking and cooking, and so I started researching pastry programs and applied to the Culinary Institute of America’s pastry program in Napa Valley.”
Reflecting on her change in direction, she says her time at Skidmore taught her to add to her life, collect experiences and pursue what spoke to her. “Skidmore built my confidence in my own curiosity, which further encouraged me to follow what would fulfill me,” she said.
Guerin added that the transition in her career also built on combined art-science experience fostered at Skidmore. “Bakers are scientists, and I love science,” Guerin said. “And then learning to design the desserts themselves — doing, plating, experimenting with flavors — that’s the art part for me.”
Soon, Guerin was traveling from one Michelin-starred restaurant to another, including Noma in Copenhagen and State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, before returning home to New Orleans in early 2020.
As the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, Guerin found herself stuck inside. “I stress-baked a lot. I got really restless, and everyone got a cake.”
Given her professional training, skills and drive to raise the bar, she was never satisfied with just chocolate or vanilla. As soon as it was safe, she was out at her local farmers market collecting spices, herbs, seasonal fruits and other ingredients for her next experiment.
That’s really how Lagniappe Baking was born: out of a hunger to feed my own curiosity and creativity. In my kitchen. In the middle of a pandemic.Kaitlin Guerin ’14
The name, too, has creative origins. The New Orleans native chose “lagniappe” — a French-Creole word —that celebrates her cultural roots and what a dessert should be: “a little something extra.”
Today, Lagniappe Baking Co. is known for inspired pastry boxes that can be ordered online and picked up or delivered to those lucky enough to secure a slot on the limited list that sells out each week.
“I do get funky,” she said. “My box this week has a snickerdoodle cake with poblano buttercream. I’ve also done a strawberry-pepper-olive oil cake with lemon-thyme buttercream. And I’m hoping to do something chocolate with something pickled. It sounds gross, but I promise it’s not.”
Her desserts have also captured the taste buds of other talented creators in New Orleans. In addition to her pastry boxes, she has a growing list of invitations to be the featured pastry chef for exclusive pop-up restaurants.
From exercise science and dance major to pastry entrepreneur, this young alumna has no regrets. “It’s all a culmination and collection of experiences,” she said. “And I still dance in the kitchen! I’ve hit the light fixture so many times that it’s bound to fall on my head. Lots of turns. Every day, I’m kind of just finding my groove.”