Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a movement back to the basics, the simpler pleasures in life. This might explain the recent “hygge” obsession - a concept that’s been popular in Danish culture for decades but only recently caught on in America. When I visited Copenhagen 10 years ago and was exposed to the idea, I’d never heard the word before. Now I see it everywhere. Hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”) is a Danish philosophy that roughly translates to mean coziness. But it’s more than that. It's a way of life that encourages us to be kinder to ourselves, to take pleasure in the modest, the mundane and the familiar. It is a celebration of the everyday, of sensual experiences rather than things.
In a related way, as the Internet and consumerism help make big businesses even bigger, we’re simultaneously seeing a focus back to small, locally owned shops. As we pull away from cheap, digital and impersonal, thoughtful and tangible is in. I’ve watched a return to the art of classic baking, local breweries and small-batch foods, made-from-scratch recipes, more crafting workshops and meetups, and growing support for localized agriculture, farmer’s markets and farm-to-table restaurants. Minimalism is now trendy, and Marie Kondo’s book about tidying up and organizing your life took off. I know a local mom who launched a “quiet book” business to help parents build their own felt activity books to entertain young children without the use of technology.
And, really, what could be a simpler pleasure than food? Successful local baker and pastry chef, Courtney Ghilarducci-Dendy, turns out handmade, classically crafted baked goods each day - dense maple scones, fluffy peanut butter cookies, crispy biscotti, buttery shortbread and festive treats like guinness cupcakes for St. Patrick’s Day and peppermint chip cookies over the holidays. The cheerful face behind GhilaDolci Bakery, Courtney also bakes custom desserts for weddings and other special occasions.
She shared with me a bit about her deep Italian roots, culinary training and plans to open a shop downtown. If you’re curious what she’s been up to at the corner of 19th and E streets, read on.
How did you get into baking?
I grew up in a large, Italian family and always saw my mom and grandmas (Nonnas) baking and cooking. I would have to say that sparked my curiosity at a young age. So, after college I thought it would be fun to attend culinary school for baking and patisserie, which I did, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. There are many things that I love about baking: the enjoyment that it gives others, being a part of life’s big moments and especially how it allows me to create and be creative.
Tell us a little bit about the renovation of your new shop?
I’ve always had a vision of a cute little neighborhood bakery that’s classy, yet comfortable, with touches of marble and natural wood accents—a large kitchen with a small retail space up front.
Why did you decide to open a shop downtown?
There’s a sense of community that downtown conveys, so when we saw this building was for sale (at the corner of 19th and E streets), we thought it had great potential.
Why did you decide to open a business in Bakersfield?
It’s my hometown and I love the people and community here. Although, it’s a fairly large city, there’s a small-town feel that I really appreciate.
Do you feel like you’re part of something bigger with the downtown food movement?
I definitely feel blessed to be part of this movement and it’s a goal of mine to offer something special for Bakersfield. And of course, I feel encouraged by other shop owners! I have many friends that own local businesses and seeing their success and hard work is a true inspiration for me to pursue what I love to do.
What would you like to see added to our local food scene?
I would love to see more edible schoolyards, where school children are able to participate hands-on in garden and kitchen lessons.
(Note from Anna: I’d love to see this too, Courtney!)
What sets your bakery apart?
We put our own Italian flare on classic desserts.
What do you want to be known for?
I would love for the bakery to be known for quality products and for it to be a reputable business that becomes an integral part of the Bakersfield food scene - sort of like a “Luigi’s” of bakeries.
Who is your baking inspiration (celebrity or otherwise)?
Thomas Keller, Ron Ben-Israel, and Ina Garten are a few, and of course, my mom and Nonnas.
And just for fun…
What is your greatest extravagance?
Facials (I’m a very practical person, so this is the extent of my indulgences.)
What is your most treasured possession?
My wedding ring (It was my husband’s late grandmother’s.)
Coffee or tea?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Doing what I’m doing nowーpursuing my dream
Are there any nicknames that people often call you?
Court, Coco, Corky, Corker
One word to describe your current state of mind?
What is your motto?
Stay humble, work hard, be kind.
Thanks so much, Courtney! I’ll be eagerly anticipating the opening of your new bake shop soon. I am personally inspired by local business owners like yourself taking risks and adding a bit more hygge to our downtown, each in their own unique way.
• Inspiring dream builders: I had the honor of judging at the awards night for the Jim Burke Education Foundation’s Ford Dimension and Dream Builders program alongside Mayor Karen Goh, Bruce Jay of Valley Republic Bank and Kevin Charette of KGET News. I left inspired by this group of high school seniors from campuses all over Bakersfield who will, no doubt, continue to do remarkable things and carry on the program’s legacy of service to worthwhile causes.
• Give Big: May 1 is a big day for giving in Kern County. Give Big Kern was designed to bring all of Kern together as one community, raising dollars and volunteer hours for local nonprofits through a 24-hour crowdfunding campaign taking place on May 1st. If you can’t wait until May to donate, the Give Big Kern online portal goes live on April 1st. It’s an easy way to donate time or money to your favorite causes. And it’s refreshing to learn about residents giving back in a big way to our community.
• Pop-up Jewish Deli: The Chabad of Bakersfield recently opened a Jewish Community Center in the prior Laurel Glen Tennis and Health Club on Ming Avenue. On Sunday, April 22nd from 4:00 - 8:00 p.m., visit and enjoy authentic New York pastrami and corn beef sandwiches. (I’ve been told the meat is shipped directly from New York.) The full menu includes knishes, chicken soup, salads and chocolate rugelach. Guests are encouraged to preorder their meal. I hear they plan to have this pop-up once a month!
• Paint for a good cause: Ever wondered what is meant by “plein air” painting? This is art completed on-site (outside rather than in a studio) or “en plein air,” a French term meaning “in the open air.” And what better time to be outside than spring in Bakersfield?
The fourth annual Kern County Plein Air Painting Festival will take place April 9-14 all over Kern County. It is the Arts Council of Kern’s only fundraiser. Fifteen artists paint Kern County for five days, and the week ends with an Award and Sales Gala on Thursday, April 14th from 6 to 8 p.m. at BMW of Bakersfield. Tickets are $45.