Locals Only: Meet Culinary Rebel Deb Ray

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BY TRINA DROTAR
THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

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Culinary rebel Deb Ray.

By day, Natomas resident Deb Ray works as an assistant property manager, but her real calling is home-based business Rebel Confectionery & Jams.

Ray finds inspiration at local farmers’ markets, friends’ gardens and even her front doorstep. A recent unexpected gift of watermelon, for example, became lime-watermelon jelly.

Ray’s philosophy is simple: “When you’ve got watermelon, you’ve got to make something with them.”

Ray enjoys experimenting with nontraditional flavor combinations such as roasted garlic and savory cherry jams. Her homemade caramels are no less an adventure in taste with hints of bourbon, bits of bacon and Earl Gray tea – just to name a few.

Ray’s candy making roots can be traced to her paternal grandmother who would make up to 900 pieces of candy for Christmas.

“I come by it, honestly, through her,” said Ray, who was recently featured in Sacramento Magazine.

Try Deb Ray’s Pumpkin Falls Ale Spice Caramels 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. today, Oct. 9 at Gather Oak Park, 3rd Street & Broadway, in Beers In Sac’s curated beer area.

Ray began canning in the late 1990s and was certified as a Master Food Preserver in El Dorado County in 2010. She started entering competitions that same year at the urging of her canning peers.

That first year, she entered pickled cherries and gingered pear hard cider jelly at the California State Fair. Both received “Best of Class” awards. In 2012, Ray entered and won “Best of Division, Best of Class – 1st Place Confections – Any Other Candy” for her sweet and savory Bacon Caramels at the state fair.

Ray’s entries at the 2014 California State Fair earned a 1st place prize for her coconut cashew Chai brittle, 1st place for her smoked almond porter caramel cup and 1st place prize for Sweet Fire BBQ sauce – a collaboration with Barb & Ed Entz.

Ray’s found a niche for her caramels with beer and bacon lovers. Earlier this year she was invited by Beers in Sac to participate in Gather Oak Park, every second Thursday of the month. In June, she paired caramels with beer and debuted the cocktail-inspired Side Car, using brandy, orange essence and a twist of lemon. Ray sampled and sold a total of four caramel flavors at the event – selling out two of them.

“It exceeded my expectations,” she said.

Ray explained her flavor pairings are intuitive. If it sounds good to her, she’ll give it a go, but she admits some recipes don’t always work. She said that her palate is broad, but her husband (and flavor chemist) Rick’s is “extremely picky.”

“I go to him with technical questions,” she said.

It isn’t just the flavors that set Ray’s creations apart. She constantly seeks out the best ingredients, shopping locally when possible.

Ray considers herself a rebel because she doesn’t have a storefront. She can mass produce – or make her goodies to order. She’s also always on the lookout for opportunities which others might overlook – like collaborating with local breweries or allowing her jelly to be used in specialty hand-crafted cocktails for Kings’ events.
“I love playing with unusual flavor profiles and combos that net me a tangible reward in the form a caramel or jam. It’s where my creativity shines.”


BRANDY TUZON BOYD contributed to this report.

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