Renee Dolley is the most enthusiastic woman in the pie business. Though she works a regular full-time gig as a lab technician, on her days off you can find her at Fork, filling the kitchen with the smells of rhubarb hand pies for her business, Renee by the Bay. She's also a huge believer in sharing, sabotaging any chance a Fork member might have of dieting (let's be honest - we weren't trying that hard). Most of all, she's one of our kindest and friendliest members. In this interview, she dished about her origins as a blueberry picker and brought in her most influential cookbook to show us.
What was your first job?
It might have been raking blueberries. I guess they have machines that rake them now, so I’m really dating myself. I was in junior high. It was hard work! We’d go up a dirt road on this bus and rake ‘em through the rows and we got paid by the pound. You’d bring your two 5-gallon pails and you’d rake all day and I remember you’d eat blueberries till your teeth turned blue!
How did you get involved with food work?
It sort of found me. When I was growing up in Central Maine there weren’t foodies. It was the 70s and 80s, when eggs were bad and margarine was big. My mom made bread, but still I never had the idea that food could be good until I moved to Portland in the mid-90’s. I think Aurora Provisions had just opened. I was like, what’s all this? Then, I started this thing called ‘Pie Night’ and people would say, you oughta have your own business. I thought they were just being kind. Fast forward to a little over a year ago, my friend Caroline goes, ‘Renee, this place is coming to town called Fork Food Lab,’ and I had thought I couldn’t have my own business because I worked full time. When I found out I could have a part-time membership, I just went, OH!
What did you bring in to share with us? Why?
This is what made me realize that baking really was a science. I made my crust from this recipe for years but it was half shortening and I realized I had to take shortening out of my crust. I still refer to this book even though my crust recipe is different now. I got it as a Christmas gift 10 years ago.
What motivates you to continue and grow your business?
I love baking. I love talking about it. I never thought I would be comfortable in a room full of people sampling, but when we have these markets or when I go to Harvest on the Harbor, I can talk all day and I don’t mind the crowds and it’s so different than normal. I just love being a part of it. It’s like an extension of who I am, it’s so authentic. You think you do all the right things, go to college, get the degree, but I still had this nagging feeling like, this isn’t it. Now I feel like that voice doesn’t talk to me anymore.
Who are some food entrepreneurs that you admire?
Alison Pray and what she’s done for baking. Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. When you combine everything in terms of ease of recipe, accessibility, respect for your time, her writing is so witty, it draws you right in. Taking everything into consideration it’s probably the best food blog out there. It’s so authentic, what she does.
What’s your go-to weeknight dinner?
I really learned to be good at rice bowls because they’re quick. It’s a blank canvas, just like a pie crust. You can put anything you want into it!
Where do you like to eat in Maine?
During Restaurant Week I went to Solo Italiano. I’m not a pesto person but their gnocchi changed my life. Also, I recently went to Thanh Thanh Two and had their beef salad. It says rare, but it’s raw. It’s so good.