Warmed by the hearth, inspired by Taos

Baking with Common Fire's Julia Collier

Master baker Julia Collier readies her loaves for the oven at Common Fire, which opened last year. The baker is a behind-the-scenes fixture at the restaurant.
Master baker Julia Collier readies her loaves for the oven at Common Fire, which opened last year. The baker is a behind-the-scenes fixture at the restaurant.
Katharine Egli

Julia Collier began her culinary career at a young age. She was only 12 years old when she started helping at The High Country, the Chama restaurant that her mother managed.

She did everything there, from waitressing to working in the kitchen.

“That gave me plenty of experience,” Collier said. “In the end, I’ve chosen to focus on what I like best.”

What she likes best is baking. And that’s the reason why she is now the master baker at Common Fire.

“I love the fact that I can set my own schedule and the alone time I have — getting there early in the morning and working on my own,” she said. “Of course, I also like being part of a team, but, like most bakers, I enjoy my productive solitude.”

From massage school to culinary school

Collier’s culinary journey took a brief detour when she attended massage school in Albuquerque.

“I wanted to learn about the human body and how to take care of people,” she said. “But I discovered that baking is also a fun and very rewarding way to do the same, so I went that route instead.”

Her story isn’t uncommon, considering that bakers and massage therapists work mostly with their hands.

“Baking is a lot about feeling the dough,” she said. “I use my hands to understand when it’s ready. I recently started using a mixer, but realized that my hands do a much better work than it does.”

After being a baker for six years, Collier went to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, Arizona, graduating in 2012.

“I already knew a lot about cooking and baking, but I wanted to get a diploma that validated all that knowledge,” Collier said.

Sweet and savory

Collier became part of the Common Fire team when the restaurant opened last year at 88 State Road 150, next to the Quail Ridge Inn on the Taos Ski Valley road.

“It was wonderful to come here,” she said. “It added a new element to my career. Bread is now my main interest. I really enjoy using the Common Fire hearth to bake. There is nothing like the warmth of the hearth.”

Collier also makes fancy desserts, like budino (a butterscotch custard, salted caramel, crème fraîche, almond-laced cookie) and carrot, coconut and German chocolate cupcakes that have just been added to the menu.

“I love versatility,” Collier said. “One of my favorite scone recipes can be adapted to make sweet or savory scones.”

The restaurant continues to expand its offerings. Common Fire owner Andy Lynch plans to open a larder where bread, cupcakes, cakes and many other items that are now on the menu will be available for sale.

“It will be another way for people to enjoy our products,” Collier said.

A special mentor

When Collier started working at Common Fire, she found a valuable mentor in Kate Inglis, a local baker who took her under her wing and shared with her many secrets of the trade.

“Kate inspired me a lot,” Collier said. “She is the reason I can now say with confidence that I know how to make bread. I give her lots of credit for that.”

The chef at home

Collier was born in Taos and grew up here, but moved to Albuquerque when she was 18. Then, like many other Taoseños, she felt the pull to come back home. Now she has settled in Taos Canyon and wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.

“I love being close to nature and here, you don’t have to go very far to do that,” she said. “I also like taking long walks with my dog, Rhada, a sweet pit bull that I adopted at Stray Hearts. She and my fiancé, Phil Kearney, are a big part of my life now.”