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@Work: Auntie's Rum Cakes

Dec. 18, 2006 — As warm breezes blow from the open balcony through the great room to the kitchen at the Crystal Palace, a woman wraps cake after cake in foil, nearly filling the banquet-sized dining-room table.
Few people get to see this master at work. Some know her as Rochelle Galiber, a St. Thomas native who had extended careers as both a research chemist and an attorney, and now splits her time between the territory and the Midwest. But fans of her work know her as the mysterious Auntie, the woman who bakes the moist and flavorful desserts known as Auntie's Rum Cakes.
"It's more interesting to see what people envision Auntie to be," Galiber says, continuing to wrap cakes as she talks. "People envision me as much older, much fatter, much darker."
But Galiber has fair skin, an average build and just turned 50 this year. She now earns her living exclusively through her baking, coming back around to her childhood love. Sometimes she bakes at her home in Findlay, Ohio, sometimes at the Crystal Palace Bed and Breakfast in Dronningens Quarter, part of the historic district in Charlotte Amalie.
The name for her business came from a niece Galiber raised, who "always called me 'Auntie,' 'Auntie Chelle' or 'Auntie Rochelle.' The name is somewhat in her honor."
Growing up "here in the islands," Galiber says, "there weren't many good bakeries." So when she grew tall enough to reach the oven, her mother, Rosemary Galiber, taught her how to bake: "In high school I baked and sold cookies, birthday, anniversary and other special-occasion cakes. I especially enjoyed making cakes in different shapes and designs for kids' parties. My cousins owned a business in town, which made for a convenient location for people to pick up their cake orders."
People kept ordering cakes even after Galiber left for college at Drew University in Madison, N.J., so she would bake when she returned home on school breaks. "That helped me go to college," she says.
After graduation, Galiber spent eight years as a research chemist for Drew Chemical, now Ashland. Then she went back to school at Rutgers University and spent a decade and a half practicing law. "What didn't I do?" Galiber says. "I worked for the biggest firm in New Jersey, doing environmental work and litigation."
Then Galiber spent some time drawing from both of her careers, moving to Ashland, Ky., and working on toxic tort litigation for Ashland Petroleum. Finally she ended up in neighboring Ohio as part of a venture that involved environmental litigation and marine work. "I've been through the whole corporate craziness of downsizing, joint ventures, etc.," Galiber says. When offered an incentive package during a spate of corporate downsizing, she says, "I said, 'Count me in!'"
Naturally Galiber's baking work took a backseat to her career during those busy years.
"I thought of about 20 things I wanted to do, but everybody said, 'Bake your cakes again,'" she says. "So, two full careers later, I started Auntie's Rum Cakes, and I've come full circle back to baking! I decided to limit my baking to rum cakes. I wanted to share with others — both in the islands and in the States — the unique taste of Caribbean rum cakes."
Galiber expresses particular pleasure at converting people who only think they don't like cake.
"A lot of men say they don't like chocolate," she says. "I don't understand why anyone would say they don't like chocolate." She pressed one man for a better explanation: "He said chocolate cake tasted like sawdust."
One taste of Galiber's rich, spongy cake changed his mind. Although she focuses on rum cakes now, Galiber offers several variations, including alcohol-free cakes for pregnant women and anyone else who prefers a cake without rum.
"I improved on the recipe my mom and I used years ago, and then I developed the additional five flavors and the entire rum-free line," Galiber says. Flavors include original, rum raisin and the following seasonal specials: chocolate rum for winter, pina colada for spring, spiked lemonade for summer and spiced rum for fall. The rum-free line includes classic, classic raisin, hot chocolate, virgin pina colada, cool lemonade and spiced cider.
Restaurants feature Auntie's Rum Cakes in both Ohio and St. Thomas, including Cuzzin's Caribbean Restaurant on Back Street (just down the hill from the Crystal Palace), Hook Line and Sinker in Frenchtown and the Blue Moon Cafe at Secret Harbor. "In 2007, I hope to expand the availability of Auntie's Rum Cakes to more restaurants in both St. Thomas and Ohio, so more people can enjoy 'a unique taste of the Caribbean,'" Galiber says.
The cakes also get packaged and shipped to all 50 states. Many rum cakes sold in the territory are made elsewhere, Galiber says, and she enjoys giving people the real thing. (Or, as her business card reads, "Authentic … Dis De Real Ting!"). "The tourists can taste what an authentic cake is supposed to taste like, then they can go home and order them online," Galiber says.
To order a cake, click here, email Galiber or call toll free 866-425-4237.
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