Elisabeth Dang, has always been a studious, methodical person with adventure in her heart – fitting qualities for Orlando's new city planning division manager and for a baker. Yes, a baker. Dang has been making breads and cakes with her mother and grandmother since she was a child.
"As a kid, I was always the one to finish my homework on time," Dang said. Her childhood friends always expected her to have a professional career – maybe lawyer, she said. And definitely to travel internationally. Baking has always been something she has done for fun.
Dang's grandparents owned a ski-in lunch shop in Vermont, where as a girl, she met people from all over the world, arriving from the mountain on their skis to grab a fresh-made sandwich.
"I would help my grandmother make the bread. And I would help my grandfather greet the guests as they came in. They were from all the world," Dang said. "As a little kid, it was very exciting to serve them bread that I had made."
Dang, who took over the Orlando planning position in May, was fascinated by the countries her grandparents' customers told her about. She was a small-town girl with big-city dreams that led her to study French and Russian along with economics and planning and to travel and work in Geneva, Switzerland, and Washington, D.C., before moving to Orlando 15 years ago. Born in Binghamton, New York, Dang grew up in Murrysville, Pennsylvania.
She spent her junior year of Bryn Mawr College undergrad studying in Geneva, Switzerland. "It was my first chance to live in a big urban city," she said.
After returning to the U.S. and graduating, Dang moved to Washington for graduate school at the University of Maryland with an eye on always living in a city – for the cultural opportunities and the activities of a city.
"I was looking around for a city to live in and found a job in city planning (in Orlando) about 15 years ago," she said. "I thought I would be here two or three years and it's been fifteen years and I've gotten married and made my home in Orlando."
Dang, whose maiden name is Holler, says she now has the loudest last name - Holler Dang. That seems to be the only thing loud about her. Baking and planning generally aren't loud activities.
"I like to make homemade bread," Dang said. "My co-workers all know me for my carrot cake." She tries to make a carrot cake for them frequently. "If they don't see one for a while, they ask, 'When are we getting carrot cake?'."
One of her carrot cake secrets is the pineapple she adds. And, of course, it has cream cheese frosting. As part of her home baking set up, Dang has a large marble slab given to her by a friend whose father was a marble worker.
"She emptied out his garage one time and gave me this gorgeous marble slab. … I use that to kneed bread. It is one of my essentials. I was very lucky that she found that."
Dang said her favorite breads to make are rye bread and then creating breads with different grains and textures. "Sometimes I'll kneed in some sunflowers … to give it a little crunch and texture."
While Dang has never competed with her baking, she has spent some time watching The Great British Baking Show on PBS and getting ideas for her own recipes. "Baking is more of a relaxing activity for me," she said, 'and I share what I make with family and friends."