POULSBO — The Farm Kitchen evolved the way a good recipe does — a bit of tinkering with different ingredients and a lot of imagination to create an original and appetizing product.
There are many ways to get to know Farm Kitchen: Take a baking or cooking class, enjoy a freshly prepared brunch once a month (I’m looking at you, March 2!), host a wedding or event in its gardens, or take a stab at creating your own food business in its commercial kitchen.
Over the years, Farm Kitchen owner Hollis Fay has had her hands in many pies — construction, mechanics, Austrian-style fine pastry baking, catering, information technology consulting, and farming. In Farm Kitchen, she satisfies many of her interests, and provides a unique and beautiful space for those behind and in front of the scenes of events.
Fay and her business partner, Anne Thatcher, have operated Farm Kitchen since 2000 — an 18-acre working organic farm on Port Gamble Road just outside Poulsbo. Horses and cattle graze in part of the fields; flowers and vegetables flourish in another part. The refurbished barn provides an airy venue for cooking classes, receptions and parties, and a guest house is available for wedding parties and retreats.
Fay learned “intricate, delicate pastry work” while in Boston, and upon her return to Seattle decided to continue in baking. In 1986, she founded Bainbridge Bakers in Winslow, which she owned for 11 years.
Fay said she bought the Farm Kitchen property to create a wholesale baking operation for Bainbridge Bakers, but after moving in decided to farm it and focus on other passions. The kitchen she built would still be rented out for caterers and those just starting out their food business.
“We’re like a food business incubator,” Thatcher said. She estimates six to eight businesses have gotten their start at the Farm Kitchen.
Already aware the Department of Health was about to change its food preparation laws, Fay bought the property in 1995 to provide a commercial kitchen space. No longer were folks allowed to sell food items prepared in their personal kitchens (although those kind of licenses are available now), but commercial kitchens were not yet marketable.
“What’s of interest to us is not necessarily always what was most in demand,” Thatcher said.
“The commercial kitchen was about five years ahead of its time. But we built it and they didn’t all come immediately. So, when that happen[ed], we had to pay the bills still, so we did the Saturday breakfast, and we still had to pay the bills, so we worked full-time jobs … This is how it grew.”
Thatcher’s background is in marketing and e-business; she previously worked as a consultant, in Starbucks’ corporate communications office, and for the Seattle Public Library. She decided to trade Seattle for a rural lifestyle, and moved in next door to Fay’s farm in 1999. She began pitching in while working for a charity that helped establish university libraries in Vietnam — many of her initial business meetings with Fay were over Skype.
The two women say their skill sets are complementary and necessary to the different lines of business at Farm Kitchen.
The commercial kitchen is open 24/7 to caterers and small-business owners who sign up to use the space. Fay and Thatcher said many have come in to work at night while taking care of family or working another job during the day.
Fay said she often offers advice and shares stories about running a kitchen and retail business with the people that come through her kitchen. Folks have made baked-goods, chocolates, barbecued meats, pasta and salsa here to sell at farmers markets or elsewhere.
Couples looking for a rural or rustic feel for their wedding ceremonies are attracted to Farm Kitchen’s farm.
“Those that choose to get married here, many have that affinity for organic farming and good food, locally sourced,” Thatcher said. The large flower gardens provide wedding bouquets, and the barn has indoor and outdoor space for receptions.
A new element has been added to the farm every year, Thatcher said — the barn’s rooms were remodeled and opened up, the pasture was turned into grass, and a stone patio added for outdoor events.
Farm Kitchen offers a brunch, on the first Saturday of the month, with a different menu every time. Here’s one month’s offering: French toast stuffed with citrus cream cheese, rosemary apple sausage, cranberry orange scones or pecan sticky buns.
Fay and Thatcher decided to take advantage of Fay’s skills and offer cooking classes, starting in 2002.
“It’s a competition every day when you bake, so it needs to be perfect,” Fay said. “You’re going to be graded on it, graded on by [the] customer.”
On a Sunday afternoon in February, 16 people learned how to make pastry dough and savory and sweet pie fillings. Many participants were from the eastside of Puget Sound, but many were local women who had taken several classes before.
“Between the gingerbread parties and [the classes], I come out two to three times a year,” said Lois Egenes of Kingston. “I’m always looking for a new idea. I was not big on pie crusts [before]. Marie Callender’s won’t see me as often anymore.”
Christine Porras and Justin Duffey of Bainbridge Island took the pie class as a fun date.
Thatcher said Farm Kitchen stays connected to the community with a well-updated website, which lists its class schedule, monthly breakfast menus and a lot of photos for prospective brides.
For the last five or so years, Thatcher and Fay have committed full-time to growing Farm Kitchen.
“The community aspect is significant,” Thatcher said.
Fay added, “I think we see it the most on the breakfast day and the gingerbread house parties. It’s just [full of] people so excited to come here.”
Check out the amenities and contact information at www.farmkitchen.com.