Panciuto chef Aaron Vandemark talks about getting back to the kitchen after six months and his new baking venture
“Our restaurant kitchen in downtown Hillsborough has been cold for many months, and as odd as that has been, I cannot say that I have missed the place entirely. Time spent on evenings and nights at home with my family has been a gift, and distance from the daily grind has created a unique perspective from which to reexamine my priorities and interests. While we are all defined by our professions, finding purpose and value during the pandemic has brought to light that our work is not the totality of who we are. Still, being without work for this long, that same light begins to create a drought. We are fortunate to be able to turn the ovens on once again, replenishing our depleting pools of self-worth.
To say the pandemic has changed the dining landscape trivializes the human cost of this virus, but we can also acknowledge that our relationship with food undeniably is redefined. Restaurant restrictions, self-imposed or mandated, have drastically changed our access to and engagement with food. As a restaurant owner, I have chosen to remain closed for as long as possible to keep my staff and customers safe. Like most small businesses without the resources to bunker indefinitely, it has been clear for some time that the day would come when my team and I would need to accept this new environment and responsibly venture forth. We have been biding our time assessing, studying and hypothesizing how to exist within these new and unpredictable conditions.
After careful consideration, I arrived at my decisions, and it is time that we remove our helmets in an unknown atmosphere and strike a path forward. With a deep breath, this past week we launched Hillsborough Bakeshop, the first leg of our long trek. It specializes in yeast and sourdough baked goods with creative pastries, tarts and pies. We are excited for its potential and hope it will become a wonderful addition to our community. Beyond the bakeshop, we have plotted an innovative course that will take us through next year, including plans for adapting and reinvigorating Panciuto.
I cannot do this alone, and my ideas would still be on paper without my team’s incredible flexibility, talent and resiliency. There is comfort in traveling this path with them, and I am more confident than ever that we will reach our destination on the other side of COVID-19. We are further heartened by the support and encouragement we have received from our friends and customers alike. Familiar faces on the morning of our first pastry pickup, if ever so briefly met, still serve as a reminder of the importance of our connection to one another, especially in times like these. Thank you for your support and kindness. We have missed the pleasure of your company, and we are glad to be back cooking for you once again.”