Speaking to a world seeking comfort food, Kate McDermott begins the same way each time.
“Welcome to my kitchen; I’m in Port Angeles, Washington,” she says, even if the next hour and a half is hosted by a grand old place in New York City.
The 92nd Street Y, a cultural center where Nobel laureates have spoken and folk singers have sung, is the platform for this Thursday’s class, titled “Snowy Day Coconut Chiffon Pie.”
McDermott’s website, artofthepie.com, has details about signing up for the live stream starting at 3:30 p.m.
“Baking, for me, is therapy. It’s a practice of hands and heart,” said McDermott, adding her Zoom classes — and she’s done lots of them — create a much easier cleanup situation than those she taught when a pack of students attended in person.
On Thursday, she’ll set up two cameras: One inside her laptop and the other in her smartphone on a stand over the stove.
Last month she taught a Zoom class and demonstrated how to make a pastry cream. As she stirred, steam rose from her saucepan. Everything went fine until the phone’s “pie cam,” as she calls it, abruptly stopped dead.
She saw the emergency message: Phone is too hot. Call 911.
“I had never experienced this, living where we do,” but McDermott responded quickly, setting the phone aside and tilting her laptop screen so her students could continue learning.
Cooking twists aside, McDermott was floored last fall when she got an email from the 92nd Street Y. Founded in 1874, the Y offers concerts, dance performances, author readings and classes on topics from art to religion.
The organization had learned of her latest book, “Pie Camp: The Skills to Make Any Pie You Want.” In October, a “dazed and amazed” McDermott became one of the 92nd Street Y presenters with her “Intro to Making Pies” course.
People around the globe join in, McDermott said. A professional baker from Dubai was a student. By Monday afternoon, 77 had signed up for “Snowy Day Coconut Chiffon,” with no limit on attendance.
McDermott used to travel four or five months out of the year, doing classes and book signings of “Pie Camp” and her earlier books, “Home Cooking” and “The Art of the Pie.”
In early 2020, the pandemic halted it all, and she thought she’d have to refund thousands of dollars in tuition for her suddenly canceled pie camps.
“I sent out an SOS,” she recalled, “and the right people showed up, virtually, to help me.” When registration for the first pie camp went live, it sold out in three minutes.
Yet, “I think the thing we all miss is the camaraderie we experience when we’re in same space together, doing something together,” she said, especially since it involves dessert.
McDermott’s way of coping is to bake her rehearsal and performance pies and give them away to neighbors and loved ones. She has a 92-year-old neighbor who doesn’t get to see anybody these days. McDermott leaves a pie on her porch, and then calls her on the phone.
As for travel, the pie queen has curtailed hers. Since last March, “I’ve been to the grocery store,” she said.
“The thing about the pie world,” McDermott added, “is it’s a very small world. Six major pie books came out this fall. Every single one of them is good,” including those written by bakers who’ve studied with McDermott.
“It doesn’t matter which book brings you to the baking counter,” she said.
Pick any one, and “get your hands in the dough.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, senior reporter in Jefferson County, can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]