BY SUSAN WENZEL
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
June 12, 2013
The weather outside was frightful, but the mood inside the kitchen was made pleasant by just the right mix of cozy ambiance, easy conversation and the rich, buttery scents of six delectable flavors of diamond cookies.
“We make Vanilla Bean, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Lavender Ginger, Coconut Curry, Cardamom Orange and Rosemary Currant,” said Gerry Betz, one half of “le pain partnership” that is Tree-Top Baking. (This reporter had the pleasure of sampling many of each type and can attest to the fact that choosing a number one would be akin to a parent trying to pick a favorite child.)
Betz and Larry Lowary are the owners, operators and sole employees of this tasty little bakery nestled among the trees on the southernmost tip of Whidbey Island. But don’t drive all the way to Clinton in search of Pecan Sticky Buns and Chocolate-dipped Coconut Macaroons. Except for the almond and raspberry jam laden Mazzarene Tartlets available at both the Coupeville and Oak Harbor bayleaf locations and at Island Coffeehouse and Books in Langley, Tree-Top treats can only be found at Bayview Farmer’s Market (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, May through October) and by special order.
When one considers the extensive variety of scrumptious goodies offered at the market each week – a seemingly infinite list of breads, breakfast pastries, cookies, tarts and cakes – as well as dozens of made-to-order specialties (Need a fabulous wedding or birthday cake?), and that they are all baked by only the aforementioned four hands, one might wonder if they get tired of doing it all.
“No,” Lowary said with a chuckle. “We love what we do. Although sometimes when we are out here for endless hours finishing the last few loaves of bread, we start to wonder.”
“But there is a reason we don’t hire anyone to help,” continued Betz. “It’s not just about using the right ingredients in the right amounts. We can give the same recipe and the same precise, pre-measured ingredients to someone else, but the end product wouldn’t be exactly the same. Consistency is the key to quality, so we prefer to do all of the work ourselves.”
This commitment to excellence is apparent in every aspect of Betz and Lowary’s baking business; it’s in the equipment, the ingredients and the end product, of course, but it is most evident in the genuine dedication with which the two approach their life’s work.
That they never stop learning, improving and developing creative, new ideas is a testament to this notion. Regular classes at the prestigious San Francisco Baking Institute and visits to Europain, an international bakery, pastry, ice cream, chocolate and confectionery trade show held in Paris every March, ensure this dynamic duo remain at the top of their game – one that is fortified by their like-minded determination to always offer their best to the community both in their sumptuous sweets and in the fact that items left at the end of market days are donated to Good Cheer Food Bank.
“We decided that if we were going to make an effort of this, we were going to do it well and do it right,” said Lowary.
“My mom always said, if you are going to do something, do it right,” agreed Betz.
Indeed, this two-man culinary team only seems to differ on one thing. While Lowary is all about the bread, Betz couldn’t disagree more, “Bread doesn’t interest me. Pastry is a luxury… and more funner,” he said with a laugh.
Visit the website for a complete product list, to get a sneak-peek at the items available at each week’s Bayview Farmers Market, or to join the email list.
(Pictured at top, Tree-Top’s Mexican Hot Chocolate and Lavender Ginger cookies await market day.)
Food writer Susan Wenzel believes in the power of locally produced food to fortify the health and well-being of both the individual and the community as a whole.