Chef Phoebe Lawless of Scratch - Biography

Durham, NC

November 2013

The youngest of 8 children growing up near Hendersonville, NC, Lawless thrived on a diet of home-cooked foods and holiday feasts. “My mother never really embraced the convenience foods that were popular in the 60’s and 70’s, when I was a child,” she says. “Family gatherings were huge, and we were accustomed to having pretty grand spreads. My mother did all of the cooking.” But with so many family members crowding the kitchen, it wasn’t until the independence of college that Lawless really started cooking. But once she found her way into the kitchen it was love at first bite, and she soon abandoned her studies to pursue restaurant work.

Starting her career on the savory side, Lawless worked at several restaurants around North Carolina, such as the Black Dog Café in Raleigh, and Deluxe in Wilmington. In 1998 she made her way to the celebrated Magnolia Grill in Raleigh. There, willing to take any position in order to work and learn under James Beard Award-winning owners Karen and Ben Barker, Lawless made her first forays into both fine dining and pastry. “Because I had a cooking background, the idea of plated desserts was really attractive. It involves the same ideas of composing a plate where you have to balance flavor, temperature, and texture,” she says of the shift in focus. Just two years later Lawless was running the dessert program as Pastry Chef.

With the arrival of her first child in 2005, Lawless took some time out of the kitchen to focus on her family. But she couldn’t stay away for long and soon began cooking out of her home kitchen. What started as a small catering business quickly grew to include stands at several farmer’s markets, and then a pie subscription service. But working out of a home kitchen and a rented catering space came with limitations, and Lawless found that her business was outgrowing her capacity for production. When a viable brick-and-mortar space became available in downtown Durham in 2010, Lawless jumped on the opportunity to move the business out of her home, officially opening Scratch Bakery.

The last three years have seen constant growth as a wider audience has discovered the inventive flavors on Lawless’ menu. Locally sourced and seasonally inspired, Southern classics such as heirloom tomato pie and chess pie share shelf space with less conventional flavors such as chestnut cream and summer squash with seared lemon and mint.