Robert Frost told us to "take the road less traveled", but sometimes the fear of the unknown overcomes the temptation of change. Life can lead you down a path that you didn't intend to go on, however, it can also turn out to be the best decision you ever made. This is the case for Pastry Chef Jessica Ellington, who originally got her degree in marketing, but then realized her heart was in the kitchen.
"I have been in the [culinary] industry about 10 years now. My previous career was in marketing; I didn't love it, nor was I inspired by it. Someone I know let me stage in his restaurant for four days and I was hooked. I went to pastry school and haven't looked back since then," said Ellington.
Ellington has worked for restaurants, restaurant groups, and bakeries around Chicago including JAM, Epic, Doughboy Restaurant Group, and Vanilla Patisserie. She is currently the owner of Sweet Bee, a freelance pastry chef business.
"I started Sweet Bee in August of 2018 because…not every business needs or can afford a full-time pastry chef and that's where I come in. My goal for 2019 is to educate as many as possible that this service exists because I believe I can address a number of issues affecting the industry right now like the labor shortage, high over-head costs, and desire to create more with less," said Ellington.
So how did she get to this point? Ellington says that some of her earliest memories are being in the kitchen with her parents and grandparents. However, she was most inspired by her love of feeding people.
"Family, friends, and even perfect strangers. I'm addicted to the look on someone's face when they've eaten something delicious that I've made."
We bet Jessica sees that "look" all the time now, especially with one of her signature desserts. She has created and experimented with a variety of recipes, but there's one that has stood the test of time. Early in her pastry career, Jessica created a recipe for sticky toffee bread pudding with bourbon sauce that still gets requests to this day.
Experience is valuable. It allows you to learn, feel confident, and share your knowledge with others. In Jessica's time in the industry, she has developed useful tricks and has advice for colleagues in the culinary industry.
"Don't be afraid to share your knowledge. I'm not saying that you should give away your recipes…[but] if someone asks you for advice or needs help troubleshooting a recipe, lend them your knowledge. Let's help each other grow so that the industry can grow and become better."
With this advice, she lends a tip from her favorite technique. She claims that whipping cream on medium speed instead of high-speed results in a product that is more "unctuous" and "stable", even though it takes a little longer.
This advice is a result of trials and errors, but also the constant education and inspiration from her surroundings. Jessica claims that for her, inspiration is everywhere: new ingredients, flavor combinations, new techniques, or tools.
"Most of my inspiration comes from traveling, farmer's markets, industry publications, my peers, and cookbooks. I'm a cookbook junkie. Seriously, I could open a book shop."
The only way to get good at something is to practice. If you want to become a chef, you must play with your food. We asked Jessica some fun questions about her experience in the culinary industry, her food style, and her guilty pleasures.
Sometimes, the best decisions are made when you don't go down the path you were expecting to take. Ellington's passion for the pastry industry snuck up on her and caused her to get off the path she had put herself on and allowed her heart to take the lead. When asked if she had a pastry or baking philosophy, her only answer was this:
"I'm not here to change the way people look at food. I'm here to create something people will crave."