The Regional’s head baker shares her recipe for success

by Karen Brucoli Anesi

She may be a pastry chef, but Gabi Gudino is not one to sugarcoat things: “Being a pastry chef is not just about decorating cupcakes all day,” she says.

At just 27 years old, Gudino is among the youngest of the new kids on NOCO’s culinary block and was one of the last to be hired when The Regional relocated from Denver to Fort Collins in October 2018. But that didn’t stop The Regional’s executive chef and owner, Kevin Grossi, from letting her take the lead with anything involving desserts. “We honestly connected immediately,” Grossi says. “I’m going to let you run with this,” he said of her ambitious plans.

In alignment with The Regional’s mission to deliver seasonal comfort food and American hometown cuisine, Gudino uses readily available ingredients from local food producers to craft specialty desserts and baked goods that are both traditional and wildly innovative.

Much of her time is spent developing and modifying recipes to crank out crazy concoctions such as Gabi’s Campfire – a gluten- and dairy-free blue corn donut, topped with marshmallow and Mexican chocolate, perhaps a nod to her mixed Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage. The daughter of a sailor, Gudino spent her childhood traveling the country, but wherever they lived, the food prepared in the family’s kitchen was consistently “amazing.”

For Gudino, it’s about dazzling customers who aren’t willing to settle for limited choices because they are avoiding gluten, dairy or nuts. Even the doubters who sample her gluten-free treats are impressed, she says. “I started out with one gluten-free cake, and the demand grew.” Gabi’s Campfire is now a best-seller.

The food prepared in the family’s kitchen was consistently “amazing.”

To sweeten any deal, Gudino is a big fan of palm sugar, molasses and agave nectar. She also isn’t afraid to skip the eggs, because there are equally good stabilizers that allow her to experiment with beets, carrots, sweet potato and avocado to create fluffy, crunchy, chewy and airy textures.

Her family eventually settled in Baltimore, where she majored in painting and curatorial studies at Stratford University in Baltimore. To fund her education, she worked as a restaurant hostess. That time spent in and around professional kitchens prompted her to jump from the easel to the oven, and she enrolled in culinary school. Some of her favorite classes involved the technical science of combining ingredients, but it’s the creative freedom that truly makes her job fun, she says.

Judging from Gudino’s portfolio, positive first impressions coupled with an eagerness to take on increasing levels of responsibility is her trademark style. During a six-month stint with a New York City catering company, she was entrusted to work with demanding clients in the limited kitchen space of their private homes. “I think because they trusted me, they had no issue with allowing me to solely create the desserts for these clients,” Gudino says.

Her advice to young women interested in the industry?

“Do the dirty work! It sucks, cleaning the kitchen up after other people, walking to work in the early hours of the morning, lifting incredibly heavy cooking machines. You will have to work extra hard to gain respect from your peers, but it is so worth it. Once they see you have done the horrible work, they trust you with so much more.”

Petite Blackened Baguettes

by Chef Gabrielle Gudino

4 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ cups warm water
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons cuttlefish ink (squid ink)
Extra oil, water, salt, pepper, garlic powder for topping.

In measuring cup, combine water, oil, yeast and sugar. Allow to foam up for about 5 minutes.

In bowl of mixer fitted with dough hook, combine flour and salt. Mix until salt is not visible. (Be careful – salt can kill yeast.) Pour wet mixture and ink into flour mix. On medium speed, mix until dough comes together and is elastic and smooth. If dough is too sticky, add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until dough is easy to handle. Scrape dough into well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave in warm place to rise for 1 hour.

After dough has risen, scrape onto well-floured surface. Cut into 4 equal pieces and shape into baguettes. To shape, flatten out dough, fold into itself (like a burrito), then roll until smooth with pointed edges. Make sure seam side is on bottom. Place on tray and allow to rise in warm spot for about 45 minutes. (Baguettes may look deflated, but don’t worry!) Once dough is ready, combine a splash of oil, water, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Brush topping onto baguettes. Score baguettes with 2 cuts of equal length. Bake in a 375 F convection oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately brush with more topping. Listen to the crust crackle, and allow to cool before enjoying.

Substitution Tips
No convection oven? No problem. Your household oven can handle these just as well. Just increase temperature to 400 F and watch for hot spots. You may have to bake for a few extra minutes.

Vegans, don’t fret. Feel free to replace the cuttlefish ink with edible charcoal. Cuttlefish ink is easy to purchase online.

Yes, this bread can be gluten-free, although it may get tricky. Substitute 5 cups of your favorite gluten-free flour mix for the 4 cups of all-purpose flour. Add 3 eggs to the mix, and a smear of soft butter. This dough will be the consistency of frosting (I know, weird!) and will need to be baked in a loaf pan instead of on a tray. Bake for about 45 minutes.

Don’t have a fancy mixer? This dough is easy-peasy to mix by hand, so don’t be intimidated.