Kaitlin Guerin’s Memories from Her Mom’s Kitchen

Pastry chef Kaitlin Guerin’s return to New Orleans sparks a new love and appreciation for the Crescent City.

Text: Kaitlin Guerin, Chef and Owner of Lagniappe Baking in New Orleans, Louisiana

MY MEMORIES IN THE KITCHEN begin at age five or six, though I know my mom, who is still to this day one of the best cooks that I know, had me in there stirring and taste-testing and learning well before then. I grew up in New Orleans where food was a big part of our everyday lives, especially during the holidays. Every year, my mother and I would gather in the kitchen and spend hours together baking sweet potato pies for family, friends, and our church.

As a child, I would get to mix the filling and taste it to determine if it needed more sugar. Knowing my lifelong sweet tooth, it’s likely there was always an addition or two. As I grew older, my mom handed off even more responsibility, letting me take the reins and put together those delicious pies. The experience of baking with my mom, the smell of those richly spiced sweet potato pies in the oven, and those car-ride deliveries that happened just after will always be imbedded in my memory. When I was young, it was just a fun day that I was able to spend with my mom baking, but as I’ve gotten older, those days have become so much more.

My mom grew up cooking with family, just the same way I grew up cooking with her, and after both of her parents passed away, time spent in the kitchen became more sentimental. I would come home during the holidays, and we would stay up all night long cooking, making sweet potato pies and all kinds of holidays dishes. We’d talk, and she would grieve some, remembering time spent with her own parents but also cherishing new memories with me. It’s so special being in the kitchen to experience that passed-down tradition that we both enjoy so much year after year. It’s cooking, but it’s focused on something else.

I left New Orleans for about 10 years for college and a career in professional dance before rediscovering my love for another art form—baking. I moved back to New Orleans just last year, and it’s a different feeling for me now. I have a refreshed appreciation for the nature of the city and valuable quality time spent with those who I love most. I cherish moments like spending nights in the kitchen baking sweet potato pies and reminiscing about days past with my mom.

This Sweet Potato-Poblano Cake speaks to two chapters of my life: my childhood spent baking sweet potato pies with family in New Orleans and the years I lived in San Francisco, finding my place as a professional baker. Last year, I founded Lagniappe Baking, a small business built on weekly pastry boxes that I fill with baked treats that honor the local bounty as well as my past, just as this frosted cake does. I hope that this is a recipe you’ll bake with your own family and friends this fall as you make memories in the kitchen.