Rockland’s Rising Above Bakery teaches baking and allows socialization
Shiri Reuveni-Ullrich calls Rising Above Bakery his “bakery”.
This is because all of the brewing, kneading, pinching, mixing and baking for the non-profit organization, which teaches young adults with special needs and learning differences about the craft of baking, takes place in his dining room in Chestnut Ridge. The goods are then sold in the area’s farmers market, although most of the activity consists of custom orders for pickup.
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Reuveni-Ullrich and an assistant are currently working with six volunteer bakers, aged 20 to 30; all have different diagnoses. The effort, which began in January, quickly overtook her home.
“I would love to bring in more bakers, I want to help everyone,” she said. “But we need a bigger space.” (The goal is to find something by next year.)
On a recent visit, it was evident that Reuveni-Ullricht could use more space, with bakers dancing around the hot oven and two workstations to produce their baked goods.
And they produce. Babkas, cookies, crackers, granola and breads on crisp, beautifully proportioned loaves of bread in a variety of shapes, sizes and varieties – think pita, rye, multigrain, olive rosemary, sweet potato semolina, raisins with cinnamon and oats and figs. She even offers gluten-free varieties, as well as a chickpea bread, inspired by a recent visit to Israel (and her love of falafel). Not to mention the spelled crackers that seem to fly out the door.
In total, this small artisan bakery produces 30 different items, all 100% sourdough, no commercial yeast and as many local ingredients as possible. All items are also organic.
Everything Reuveni-Ullrich does requires forethought, as she must teach her bakers basic skills, such as measuring and using a scale. That’s why she always starts them with granola because “if you make a mistake it’s okay,” she said.
Despite the education happening in his dining room, Reuveni-Ullrich emphasizes that this is a bakery, not a training program. As Effort is a 501c3 charity, the bakers are not paid, although she hopes that through donations she can eventually give them an allowance. A fundraising campaign started last week. Most bakers work twice a week for three to four hours. All profits from the sale of the products go directly to the bakery to cover expenses.
Her goal for Rise Above Bakery is for her bakers to grow up with her, learn new skills, and end up having a full-time job.
Daniel Kuiken of Glen Rock, New Jersey, who has been part of the “bakery” since the summer, can already bake cookies from start to finish with little supervision. Ditto for Connor Carson of Cresskill, New Jersey, who has been cooking with Reuveni-Ullrich from the start (his mother is on his board). As a non-profit organization, Reuveni-Ullrich has a six-person board of directors, which includes people working in hospitality, education and marketing.
Pastry is a far cry from its days as a speech therapist for children with special needs, a profession in which she has practiced for over 20 years. Passionate baker, Reuveni-Ullrich came up with the idea for Rising Above Bakery when she noticed the dramatic effect of baking cookies on her nonverbal and autistic young adult students.
“The kitchen was filled with buzzing, singing and laughing and was so lively I knew I had to start a bakery to help people with disabilities live meaningful and independent lives,” she said.
The bakery had been in the making for two years. Its initial goal was to open a storefront. “I really wanted to show the community that we are all equal and capable of doing any job,” she said.
But then COVID-19 hit and like everyone else, she had to pivot. Hence: his dining room.
The pandemic meant few volunteers as people feared leaving their homes, but slowly, thanks to its connections in the community (and word of mouth), more have signed up.
Carson said he really enjoys cooking with Reuveni-Ullrich, especially when it comes to shaping breads and learning more about the process. “I love to cook,” he said. “And it’s much better than staying home all day.”
He was quick to thank his mother for doing “the hard work” to get him into Rising Above. “I’m so proud to do this,” he said.
Likewise, Kuiken takes pride in his work. He was especially happy that an idea he had for a chocolate chip cookie sandwich was something Reuveni-Ullrich took to heart. Rising Above is now experimenting with different flavor combinations. (FYI, he likes “all chocolate”.)
“I let Daniel run his cookie idea and he owns it, which is really cool,” said Reuveni-Ullrich. “Part of this process is taking creative ideas, developing recipes and developing skills.
“Cooking together also involves a vocabulary which, for those with limited verbal individuals, is not so easy. They have to say more than ‘like this’ or ‘I don’t like it’, so we are working on refine that. “
As much as creation and production are important, so is socialization.
“I want it to be as fun as possible,” said Reuveni-Ullrich. So, when the dishes cool, the bakers retreat into the kitchen where – forgive the pun – they break bread, brush themselves with butter and savor the fruits of their labor before returning to the dining room.
“Encouraging socialization is important,” said Reuveni-Ullrich. “I might be a baker, but you can’t take the speech therapist away from me.”
Find your bakery products
Breads start at $ 8 and go up to $ 15. Order online; pick-up locations include Hudson on Main in Nyack, Fish Dock in Closter, New Jersey, Mindful Café in Ramsey, New Jerse and her home in Chestnut Ridge. Details onisingabovebakery.org or call 646-541-4595
Jeanne Muchnick covers food and meals. Click here for his most recent articles and follow his latest culinary adventures on Instagram @lohud_food or via the lohudfood newsletter.