Kansas City baker brings a vintage aesthetic to her desserts.
In most cases, a person enjoying something doesn’t usually look forward to its ending. We live for the lingering essence of things, the smells, the tastes, the ambiance. We can get so caught up in the moment that we forgot how sometimes the endings, are just new beginnings with a sweet sendoff. We lean into this understanding as we embrace the lessons of being mindful of the current moment. Traci Lee exemplifies this and the art of putting yourself first through her journey as a culinary artist.
Within the interview with Lee, I found a common thread of joy as she discusses what she loves to do but also the reactions from those that have utilized her baking expertise. That joy for Lee was first found in her relationship between her and her mother. She expresses how she viewed her mother in the kitchen countless times and that her love of baking stemmed from her mother’s homemade peach cobbler. A precious memory came up for Lee, as she thought back to her first attempt of using her recipe. Although all the steps were followed, there were small details missing that left her feeling unsuccessful in the task, she admits. She continues to say how gentle and reassuring her mother was in wanting to recreate the dish together later. The unfortunate truth, Lee shares candidly, is that her mother passed before getting that chance. But through this hard transition, she persevered in her craft.
After graduating high school, Lee went on to take culinary arts classes for two years at Johnson County Community College. She found herself in the kitchen more and her love for baking grew tremendously as she shared her desserts with family, friends and church members. It wasn’t until three years ago that she got her first idea to branch out into vending her sweet treats. Like many people who appreciate fresh food and air on a weekend afternoon, she found herself enthralled in the atmosphere that it the farmer’s market. It was then that she took note of two things that were lacking from the market: Black vendors and cakes. Recognizing the demand, Lee saw the opportunity to really take root in her business venture. She takes the time to convey a bit of wisdom from a friend who had a lot of impact in Lee making this decision. “You just have to get started and everything else will come”, her friend encouraged. With those words, Lee proceeded to move into the farmer’s market space, reaching personal goals each and every time she participated.
The support for Lee’s talents and strength continued to grow with the support and influence of many people. “My support was real from Day 1,” she stated. There was family and church members excited to offer to try samples and request orders for various events, a cousin who helped Lee with creating business cards and receiving guidance on marketing and business etiquette from an aunt. She also emphases the invaluable lessons and motivation that she’s learned from her sister, such as the process of shipping cakes outside of the Kansas City metropolitan area. With excitement and pride, she states how she had just shipped a cake to Florida for the first time a few days prior to the interview.
In more ways than one, Lee is finding innovative ways to give back to her supportive community. One idea is that she is working to create a family cookbook to preserve their recipes and to help circulate them, there are plans for family cooking lessons to continue the love and traditions. Outside of family, friends and church community, Lee thoughtfully provides culinary support in the public school district in Manhattan, Kansas, where she works as the Director of Nutritional Services. As she reflects on the past few years, she talks about how her motivation for the art had evolved and the social challenges presented during this time. “I learned that I’m really strong when I put my mind to it. I just had to take a leap of faith and trust God,” She affirmed.
Looking forward, Lee is exploding with new ideas and directions for her platform, Caking it up with Traci. “My theme is bold moves right now,” she says with conviction. One of her goals are to eventually own a cake truck, making it easier to travel and take on more events in the city. A friend has even suggested that Lee is ready to tackle a larger audience by hosting a cooking channel on YouTube. Something else for this baker to be thrilled by, is her first (and certainly, not the last) opportunity to prepare a wedding cake for the first time this upcoming summer. Although Lee takes note of the new adventures that awaits, she is most looking forward to cultivating a deeper partnership with her community. She states that she would love to pass her knowledge through teaching at the Beatrice L. Lee Community Center. The center is named after her grandmother and includes classes on computers, dance, pottery and more. In a need to further connect with family and the community, she has found solace in writing. Lee expresses her love of reading and writing and now feels prepared to share pieces of herself through words. Carrying her mother’s memory, she’d impresses how writing a book with what she calls, “Dear Mom” letter would continue to help her cope with grief and possibly so many others.
Traci Lee truly shows how much our individual stories intertwines with the food experiences we’ve had throughout life. Taking into consideration everything discusses in the interview, another important comment stood out for me. She states that whenever she bakes, she always serves the first slice to herself. This is done to taste test her work, of course. But she emphasizes just how major it is to pour into yourself first, so that what you provide to others is of quality and that it doesn’t deplete you in the making. It’s clear, the love is there, being fed to us from others but most incredibly we learn to nourish ourselves, leaving a fullness that can never be replaced or replicated.
Thank you to the wonderful culinary artists who have shared their stories and reflections in our Fed With Love series.
Join us March 25th, when we’ll be finally getting a taste of what Traci Lee is baking:
Desserts Trio: Peach Cobbler cups, Strawberry Cheesecake, and Pound Cake