Moist blackberry lemon muffins, bite-size chocolate donuts with sprinkles and a cake-size cinnamon roll drizzled with icing beautifully line the granite countertop at The PeaceBaker in Metairie. Customers quickly become more than a bit overwhelmed by pastry chef Kelly Boffone’s (BS ’01) wide-ranging sugary selections of iced scones, cupcakes and cookies. So surprised by the unexpected menu, those who stop by The PeaceBaker are regularly moved to tears.
“Almost every day someone new comes in and cries,” Boffone says. “They’ll ask, ‘What’s gluten-free?’ and I’ll say, ‘Everything.’ And then they’ll ask, ‘What’s dairy-free?’ and I’ll say, ‘Everything.’”
Up until now, New Orleans-area customers with allergies and special diets have been extremely limited in their baked-good choices. When they realize they can choose from all of The PeaceBaker’s delicious-looking items, it’s an emotional experience.
Before Boffone opened her bakery at 6601 Veterans Blvd. in August 2012, she too was pastry-deprived. Food sensitivity issues, particularly her cow’s milk allergy, made following standard recipes impossible and prevented her from enjoying most of the pastries and baked goods she created. But that didn’t discourage her from pursing her lifelong pastry chef dreams.
“I always knew I wanted to bake; I’ve been doing it since I was a kid,” she says. “When all of my friends were watching cartoons on Sunday mornings, I was there with my grandpa watching Justin Wilson and Nan Can Cook on PBS.”
Following graduation from Archbishop Chapelle High School, Boffone found a job in a local bakeshop, which reinforced her passion. Soon after, she enrolled at Nicholls, becoming one of the first students to complete the culinary arts bachelor’s degree program.
“Nicholls gave me everything I needed for professional success, and just as important, it gave me a real college experience — a real college life that you just don’t get at other culinary schools,” Boffone says.
In the 12 years since she graduated from the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, Boffone has been a pastry chef at Charley G’s restaurant in New Orleans; a faculty member at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in St. Paul, Minn.; and the executive pastry chef at Emeril’s, New Orleans.
“Being the executive pastry chef at Emeril’s is the dream job for any pastry chef, but it got me soul searching, looking inside myself,” she recalls. “I discovered that I missed baking and getting my hands in things. I wanted to do simple items — not such elaborate stuff.”
While contemplating her future, Boffone spent a lot of time in the kitchen experimenting with dairy-free recipes. Through her research, she discovered that no bakeries in the area offered sweet treats for customers with food allergies.
Excited about the challenge of creating good-tasting, made-from-scratch baked goods sans cow’s milk and gluten, she decided that her bake shop would focus on this underserved customer base. News travels fast in this community of baked-good-deprived folks, and people soon began coming from near and far to taste The PeaceBaker’s wares.
“I wanted to wait a couple of weeks to open so we could try out all the recipes in the new ovens and make sure everything was just right,” she says. “I displayed the three test items we made one day on colorful cake plates, and I heard a knock-knock on the door. I said, ‘Oh, we are not open yet,’ and literally people were like, ‘Please, I see you have things ready. Is that a scone, a muffin? I’d really like just one,’ and I said, ‘OK.’ Word got out fast, and the next week I said, ‘OK, we really have to start making things to sell!’”
It’s been almost a year since The PeaceBaker — aptly named for the peaceful effect these specialty baked goods have on customers’ stomachs — first opened its doors. The shop has clearly grown into a place where folks want to hang out and linger a bit, and its décor — energetic, colorful and just a bit funky — is reflective of the owner’s infectious, passionate personality. Up at 2 a.m. and at work by 3 a.m. to begin baking, Boffone is fully committed to keeping her menu seasonal and evolving for her loyal clientele.
“We have to make everything fresh daily because our shop is small, the shelf life is short and quality is critical,” she says. “Each morning, I decide what to bake that day based on what’s fresh and in season. If it’s blueberry season, we bake blueberry coffee cake, scones and muffins.”
Not one to sit on her dairy- and gluten-free laurels, Boffone has big plans for The PeaceBaker’s future. She’s busy scouting the perfect location for a second shop, and her five-year goal is to open an allergy-friendly café that sells take-and-go meals, something not currently available for her dietary-challenged clientele.
But Boffone doesn’t just view herself as an entrepreneur and chef. She has a deep-seated need to use her culinary skills to bring emotional experiences to customers, to connect people with similar struggles and to enrich and support the community she lives in.
“Baking is my calling, but The PeaceBaker is really about so much more than just serving baked goods to allergy-sensitive customers,” Boffone says. “I want The PeaceBaker to be all about community and helping people by providing a friendly gathering place, donating our tip-jar proceeds to local charities and displaying local artwork. It’s about using my God-given talent to make a difference.”
— Written by Renee Piper, director of university relations
This article originally appeared in the spring 2013 issue of The Colonel alumni magazine. Click here to read the entire issue.