Kara Blitz

Leonelli NYC
Flatiron, NYC
Those of you who remember The Gershwin Hotel and its magical maze of rooms will be pleased to see the building has been updated to the decadently Art Deco Evelyn Hotel. Inside the hotel lies a gem, its partner cafe Leonelli Bakery. Tucked right into the middle of the Flatiron District, Leonelli stands out from the barrage of chain coffee shops and matcha bars; focusing its efforts on traditional Italian baking methods, with fresh flour milled in-house, and seasonal ingredients sourced from the Union Square Green Market. At the helm of it all is Kara Blitz, Leonelli's pastry chef, whose standout focaccia and baked confections truly transport you to Rome’s Pizzarium Bonci. Read on for Kara's story, and to bookmark Leonelli on Google Maps for your next grab-and-go lunch ;)
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Full name, age, and where are you from?

Kara Blitz: 40 years old; Palo Alto, CA.

What was growing up like for you and did you have family meals growing up?

We had family meals growing up. My sister and I traded off nights doing dishes. I remember lots of laughter and my mom doing her best to rotate the menu and keep my sister fed when she stopped eating meat at age nine.

What meal, or beverage, most reminds you of your childhood? 

My great-grandma’s stuffing recipe! It’s so basic and says holidays and family to me. As the years went on my mom had to make more and more versions for holiday meals: no raisins for Papa Judd; no chicken stock for my sister. Mom’s a good sport.

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Tell us a bit about your venture. What is your role and how did you get into this industry?

I am the Pastry Chef for Leonelli Bakery, as well as the Restaurant and Bar. I came to NYC in 2005 to attend Pastry School and just to move to New York! I kept winding up in restaurant jobs. There was a bakery job where I worked as a cashier, but I would always sneak back to the cake decorating room and ask them to show me what they were doing. I thought, “I think I could do this every day”. And then I went to visit a friend living in Manhattan and thought, “I could live here!”

How has the pandemic affected you?

I had left Lincoln Ristorante after eight and a half years and was taking time off in the beginning of 2020. In March I went down to Maryland to help my sister and her husband with my then two years old niece. Her preschool was shutting down for what we thought would be a couple weeks. Of course, I was there six months!

My niece and I cooked together a lot. Cooking with a toddler is a little different than cooking in a professional kitchen. I had to let go of any expectations. It brought me back to the simple joy of cooking to cook and have fun and being ok with making a mess.

This industry gives us the opportunity to treat our loved ones to great meals, but we miss a lot of holidays and birthdays. The silver lining of the pandemic for me was the amazing bond I got to form with my niece and the time I got to spend with my sister and brother-in-law.

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What do you think working in this industry during this time has taught you?

Coming back to the professional kitchen as everything is opening up has been fascinating. Everyone is doing their best to navigate uncharted waters. I am always reminding myself to let go of what I think will happen.

What's your favorite dish/dessert that you have created so far?

I did a wedding cake a few weeks ago. Very simple, one tier, fresh flowers; but it was so clean. I felt it matched the room and the intimate reception.

Once it is completely safe to eat out again and socialize, where is the first place you're going out to eat at and what are you ordering?

There are so many places! But first, my husband and I will probably end up at the ramen joint in our neighborhood.

Anything exciting coming up for you?

We are all very excited that Benno Restaurant is now open!

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