Most days, Kachina Williams, 27, is Portland phenom Thuy Pham's protégé at her vegan Vietnamese snack palace, Mama Dút, where she's charged with making an Instagram-ready array of cupcakes, sugar cookies and multi-hued whoopie pies.
But on Halloween, from 10 am until she's sold out, Williams will transform into her alter ego, Baker Ghoul Magic, channeling her Black-Filipina heritage and love of horror movies, humor, and dark Victorian moods, to serve up only the most temptingly creepy of treats.
During her takeover at Mama Dút, at 1414 SE Morrison, watch for pumpkin cinnamon rolls lavished inside and out with pecan butter, matcha coconut cupcakes, and ube whoopie pies. Graveyard cakes in cups, her “spooky riff” on a “dirt-in-a-cup” dessert, will plant crumbled chocolate cake and pandan-filled Oreo cookies in 4-inch pots. On top: pandan frosting “grass,” edible flowers, and a tombstone cake topper.
And where else will you find vegan “meat” pies inspired by a folk-horror movie? William's mushroom tocino pot pies have one foot in her father's Mississippi roots, the other in the flavors loved by her Phillipines-born mom. But the look and design of the pies are straight from one of her favorite films, Midsommar—one of those reminders to stay away from idyllic Swedish festivals, where people go missing and pies might contain a body part or two.
Her pop-up comes just ahead of Mama Dút's celebration of one year of a wild ride in Portland's restaurant world. Last November 7, Pham opened her doors to find the lines around the block, in the rain, in a pandemic, left no doubt: a Portland phenom was on the rise. Pham, who had never cooked professionally, had one employee, Portland newcomer Williams, who had never worked a line. The orders kept coming; the stress was surreal. Afterwards, they holed up in the bathroom crying.
A few months earlier, Williams was a baker with dreams and a culinary diploma working in an Amazon warehouse in her hometown of Modesto, California. She came to Portland on a whim and never left. As she tells it, “I literally said ‘Fuck it, I'm staying here.’”
Now, “Baby Dút,” as Williams calls herself, is learning the ins and outs of running a business from Pham—background that could ultimately help her Baker Ghoul Magic persona run her own show someday. For now, roam her IG account for a window into Baker Ghoul Magic's world, like a striking vegan German chocolate cake complete with Stroopwafel cookies teetering over black-hued frosting roses and the (rice papered) visage of tragic anime anti-hero Ken Kaneki (aka Tokyo Ghoul). But she also loves vintage baking, what she calls a “1950s housewife aesthetic.”
Williams shows up for our interview in a T-shirt flashing the Japanese poster for the slacker flick, Friday the 13th. “So on-brand for me,” she says with a big giggle. She's driven, she says, to smash stereotypes and embrace her spirit. “Growing up I had a lot of self-hatred. Who I was, the color of my skin. I woke up every day and straightened my hair. I was one of ten black kids in school who liked metal and goth.” After high school, on Tumblr, she stumbled on Afro-punk—and a community. “There's where Baker Ghoul Magic comes in,” she says. “It's my take on Black Girl Magic. It's me being that Alternative Black Filipina—a girl who loves what she loves, who can be whoever she wants to be.”
Pham understands the journey. “Kachina's baking skills are important,” says Pham. “But this pop-up is an opportunity for her to explore her identity through food. The baking world is dominated by whiteness, the vegan world even more so. I found a lot of my own identity cooking my food.”
Williams’s goal in the future? “My own spooky gothic vegan bakery,” she says without hesitation, adding: “I want to get into burlesque. I want to call myself a burlesque baker.” Her inner Baker Ghoul Magic tells her: go for it.
Baker Ghoul Magic, Oct. 31, at Mama Dút, 1414 SE Morrison, 10 am until sold out. @baker.ghoul.magic