Paola Velez, a baker from New York, turned her 2020 furlough into a movement. Co-founder of Bakers Against Racism, Velez worked with bakers all around the world who were in similar situations to help raise money for “the people who made our industry what it is”–undocumented workers. Such workers weren’t able to benefit from programs set up during the beginning of the pandemic to help other furloughed industry members. Velez partnered with chef Rob Rubba and chef Willa Pelini, and today the organization is “unofficially the world’s largest bake sale, raising over 2.5 million dollars for social justice causes worldwide.”
Bakers Against Racism started out as a small pop-up in April of 2020. Velez created a Latin-American donut pop-up called Doña Dona that raised money for the local DC undocumented workers. That was when chef Willa Pelini reached out to Velez. She was interested in creating a similar pop-up, and Velez saw an opportunity to help people on a larger scale.
Using her resources she learned from her first pop-up, Velez figured out how to both bake at scale and raise the funds they needed. She then brought in chef Rob Rubba as their graphics creator and as co-founder of the movement. Upon taking her movement to social media, Bakers Against Racism officially formed.
As a chef, Velez’s Dominican heritage inspires all that she makes. Although she creates American staples (such as sticky buns, cookies, and cakes), she adds her own “whimsical flare” to them for people like her, who want a taste of their heritage, or for anyone looking to expand their palate. As she makes desserts that are funky and unique, she is conscious of preserving the dessert at its core.
The Treat Behind Paola Velez’s Roots
Velez feels that her plantain sticky buns express her background, merging “Americana with Caribbean influences.” Instead of using the traditional pecans for the buns filling, she replaces them with sweet plantains. The sweet, starchy paste from the sweet plantains removes the need for sugar and brown butter.
Inspiration for her sweet plantain sticky buns struck while watching Guy Fieri with her mom. As Velez and her mom watched Fieri devour massive sticky buns on television, her mom suggested she try it but to add in plantains. When Velez was awarded the title of Best New Chef from Food & Wine, Guy Fieri actually came out to try her sticky buns, claiming them the “best thing” he’d eaten all year.
In the sticky buns and Velez’s other desserts, she’s passionate about making recipes that are accessible to home bakers without the tools of a pastry chef. She encourages at home bakers to get creative and alter what they envision when they think of pastry chefs, especially in this new age of social media.
Video by: Jonathan Boncek
Edits by: Jack McAlister
Production by: Maggie Ward
Location: Charleston Wine + Food