Pan Latin Catering and Bake
Wearing her signature red apron, Sandy Kraehling hovers over a griddle that’s covered in golden cornmeal cakes and nubbly vegan burgers made of brown rice, oats and beans. One hand cradles a crispy tortilla bursting with shredded veggies while the other squirts a dollop of yogurt sauce from a squeeze bottle. She banters with the line of patient customers who understand that good—and healthy—things come to those who wait.
This farmers’ market is a long way from Battery Park City, but everything in Kraehling’s life has evolved serendipitously. The former New York restaurateur now calls southern Vermont home, and she is fully invested in her community. Through her business Pan Latin Catering and Bake, Kraehling serves freshly prepared organic food at three farmers’ markets, caters and offers popular cooking classes in people’s homes.
“At the markets, I pick up different ingredients from my vendor friends and incorporate them into what I’m preparing. I do have my set menu, but nothing is better than working with just-picked produce where the molecules are still jumping,” Kraehling says with characteristic passion. “I love the spontaneity of creating on the fly. That is fusion, synergy and collaboration. That is food!”
Although her theme is “Latin-inspired, sun-created, Vermont-finished,” Kraehling can cook any cuisine—Ethiopian, Indian, Latin, Mediterranean, Asian. “My food speaks for itself because I source the best ingredients possible. I use locally grown produce, organic beans and rice, sustainable meats and seafood. Even though they cost more, it suits my conscience.” She adds, “If you show genuine pride and love for what you do, it’s contagious.”
As an adult, Kraehling spent 13 years with Nestlé, where she was trained in coffee, fine chocolates and high-end sauce production. That experience inspired her to attend the French Culinary Institute in the mid-1990s. “After that,” Kraehling explains, “I began to volunteer a couple of days a week at Asia de Cuba in Midtown Manhattan to see if I liked the steamy, hot, on-your-feet-all-day-long restaurant world, if I could take the pressure in the kitchen.”
The answer was a resounding yes, and six years later, Kraehling opened Pan Latin Café in Battery Park City. She cites her mother (“the original Martha Stewart!”) and pride in her own Colombian heritage as catalysts. Kraehling was living in the neighborhood and found the space shortly after 9/11. Construction started in 2003, and the doors opened in 2004. “We had floor-to-ceiling windows and a million dollar view of the Hudson along the esplanade, with big sky days and sunsets that could rival any others on the planet.”
The café served Latin-inspired healthy food at a time before quinoa and kale were household staples. Kraehling taught cooking classes for adults and for kids and did corporate catering for the big name banks. Unfortunately the recession hit hard and Pan Latin closed in 2010.
But the indomitable Kraehling pivoted and served as a chef-consultant for a company that produced farm(ish)-to-table meals for schoolkids throughout the Bronx, Harlem, Brooklyn and Newark. Fifteen thousand daily! “I developed recipes based on the USDA My Plate regulations. I taught workshops for parents, teachers and students on health, nutrition and cooking. I think that’s when I realized I’m a teacher at heart.”
Fortunately for southern Vermont, that realization pointed Kraehling north. “I had visited Vermont for years, and my friend would take me to the farmers’ markets here and say, ‘You should do this.’ So my family and I made the move in October 2014. Picture the Beverly Hillbillies’ truck loaded to the gills. That was us leaving New York and arriving in Vermont.”
Kraehling now sets up her Pan Latin Catering and Bake booth at three farmers’ markets: Londonderry and Ludlow in summer and Dorset year-round. “Running a farmers’ market food stand is a cross be- tween a pop-up café on wheels and a brick-and-mortar restaurant with- out the brick and mortar. The colorful setup is a joy! When you have an array of sun-created foods, Mother Nature takes care of the palette.”
That palette inspires her signature dishes that keep customers sati- ated and energized. Veggie prensado, a tortilla envelope filled with thinly shredded red cabbage, carrots, red onion and field greens, mango, jicama, avocado and grated white cheddar. Arepas, crunchy cakes made of cornmeal and fresh corn kernels, come hot off the griddle, laced with seasoned yogurt and grilled veggies. “Mish mosh” protein salad unites quinoa with fruits and sliced veggies tossed with cilantro-soy or Vermont quince vinaigrette. In winter Kraehling offers camote gorda, or fat yam, a satisfying dish of roast yams, grains and veggies topped with papaya and sliced Vermont quince. She also prepares savory bread puddings, tortes and winter soups. Puff pastries come filled with caramelized apple, pear, guava, quince or savory veggies.
Looking to fight the winter blahs? Kraehling can bring her vast knowledge of world cuisine right into your home, either through a catered event or her unique cooking classes. These sessions, designed for five to eight guests, are held in a host’s kitchen and last several hours.
Kraehling works with the host to ascertain what cuisine to explore for the evening and designs the menu from there. $60 per person covers the food, wine and cheese.
And enlightenment. Each class offers an anthropological, musical and culinary immersion into the featured cuisine. “Cooking is merely an incidental part of the class,” Kraehling says. “We talk about life and our free-ranging conversations infuse the dishes at the end.”
Participants are actively engaged in preparing the meal. Kraehling teaches knife skills as part of the process and discusses the mise en place. “We analyze the ingredients, smell the spices, cut open a passion fruit, for example, and look at the drizzle of seeds and beautiful tart nectar coming out of the flesh. We talk about the wines, cheeses and history of the region. Together, we cook several different courses all the while listening to music, which adds rich fiber to the evening. Before we realize it, the table is filled with gorgeous food, which we sit down to enjoy together. People seem so appreciative for a different experience. When someone is genuinely grateful for what I’ve cooked or shared, that fills my soul.”
Kraehling reflects on her first few years in the Green Mountains. “We have amazing entrepreneurial opportunities here in the Northshire, with plenty of creative talent. I feel quite humbled in the midst of people I admire and learn from: master gardeners, committed farm- ers, artisanal producers, inspired writers, dedicated teachers, civic-minded community leaders. I’m eternally grateful to my sons, Zak and Tyler, and I’m also blown away by the receptiveness of my farmers’ market customers to the foods I prepare. Vermont is the real deal.”
Maria Buteux Reade still hasn’t figured out how Sandy manages to do so much with just two hands at her market booth. A one-woman marching band!