Tiffany Schultz is kidding when she claims she was born with a Betty Crocker cookbook in her hand, but baking is deeply embedded in her DNA.  The midd

le of five kids raised just south of Milwaukee WI, the head chef of Laughing Seed Café has been baking as long as she can remember. And no Betty Crocker box mix in their kitchen.

“For birthdays, it was always a cake from scratch, and every Christmas we busted out grandma’s recipes,” she recalls.

When her older sister committed to follow a vegan diet and her younger brother was diagnosed with autism and went gluten free, “All of a sudden it was ‘We can’t use Grandma’s sugar cookie recipe anymore.’ We had to switch it up.”

Challenge accepted. “It was a struggle, but it was also exciting. It opened up my world to a whole different pantry of ingredients, different flours, seeds, nuts and oils. I loved learning about it.”

A crystal ball would have revealed Schultz was p

reparing for a job at Laughing Seed, Asheville’s 30-year old international vegetarian restaurant which has increasingly accommodated vegan and gluten-free diets.

But back then, when a couple of semesters of college convinced her she was not made for a classroom, she found her happy place at Larsen Bakery. “It was an historic Danish bakery in Racine. They were using these century-old recipes from Copenhagen. I was so happy to be around baking every day.”

She began in the front of the store, but was soon recruited to decorate cakes, and then permitted to do some baking. When she and her partner moved to Milwaukee, she tackled a new challenge.

“I applied for a job at Honeypie Café, which was a farm-to-table, old-school Midwestern food restaurant,” Schultz says. “Pies were a big thing, and I was mostly cakes. They asked if I could make pie and I said, ‘Of course!’ I learned it as fast as I could and now, I can make pie in my sleep.”

Aside from mastering a flakey crust – “The key is cold ingredients, which is tough in a hot kitchen in the middle of summer.” – her time at Honeypie also kickstarted her interest in farming, which she pursued when she and her partner moved to Asheville in 2016.

“He is in the medical field, which allowed me to farm and work part time. He is always well-fed so it’s a good partnership.”

Her first stint at Laughing Seed began in 2016 when she answered an ad for a pastry position. “When I walked into that kitchen, it was like everything they were doing jived with what I knew, and I felt at home immediately.”

She stayed for three years, learning the established baked good recipes, and formulating new ones. In 2019, she jumped on the emerging hemp bandwagon, first at Blue Ridge Hemp, then Franny’s Farm, selling at local tailgate markets and volunteering with Utopian Seed Project.

As much as Schultz  loved farming and being outdoors, she missed being in a kitchen, baking and feeding people, so she reached out to Laughing Seed, and was welcomed back in 2022, moving from part time to head pastry chef.

Aside from her experience in vegan and gluten-fr

ee baking – which she continues to experiment with and refine — her time farming and with Utopian Seed Project broadened her understanding of how fresh fruits and vegetables can be used in baking.

Exhibit A: The Mocha Okra Cake she created for the Utopian Seed Project’s Trial to Table Fall 2022 celebration.  “They grew a Turkish heirloom squash, Kars Yemeklik, and told me I could use the flesh, but had to return the seeds. I decided to make a Turkish coffee cake.”

In addition to the squash, she roasted okra seeds for coffee notes, added chocolate and tossed on some sumac-candied seeds for a crunchy garnish.

Though it was a smash hit at the dinner, it likely won’t be on the Laughing Seed menu. “People hear vegetables in a cake and take a pass, but the chocolate peanut butter cake will fly.”

Though Schultz was promoted to executive head chef at the end of February, she is not forsaking baking. Breads are also in her wheelhouse, using her 8-year-old sourdough for baguettes and introducing Hokkaido milk bread burger buns.  She recently came up with a vegan GF snickerdoodle cookie and an Italian pignoli cookie; her vegan cheesecakes begin with a GF crust of dates, seeds and nuts, and are also no-bake for people following a raw diet.  Her personal sweet spots include a vegan hemp seed and pistachio baklava, and a pistachio rosewater layer cake.

“So many people on vegan and GF diets talk about missing certain things, like a good layer cake. I say come to Laughing Seed any day and we will make you happy.”

Written by Kay West