Recipe For Success: Jen Gross Spotlight
For some chefs, the journey to find their true calling is often a road paved with twists, turns and detours. For Jen Gross, a student in the Certificate in Baking & Pastry program, it was more like a cross-country road trip.
What began as positions doing food preparation in restaurants quickly turned into a burn out that led her to take a long hiatus from the industry all together. After pursuing a number of other professional paths, she started baking and quickly learned that whatever satisfaction she didn’t receive on the savory side was multiplied a hundred times over for sweets.
With her husband and his office more than willing to act as taste testers, Jen began building her pastry arts career, one confection at a time. After acquiring a steady list of clients and finding a newfound talent in specialty cake decorating, she was ready to take her skills to new levels with an in-depth online pastry arts education. Now equipped with an arsenal of newfound techniques, she’s ready for her next adventure: owning a brick-and-mortar pastry shop.
Jen took some time to speak with us about what led her to pursue the online pastry program, how sometimes your biggest mistake can lead to your biggest triumph and her recipe for success in online education.
Escoffier Online: Tell me a little about your career and history in the pastry arts.
Jen Gross: My career in the culinary industry started 20 years ago. I worked in a small Italian restaurant. I prepped the salad bar by cutting up the lettuce and vegetables. I worked there for over 2 years, but honestly was not satisfied. So I left and tried other occupations. About six years ago, I started baking. I realized I love it. It was not that the culinary industry was not for me, rather it was the need to be on the sweet side of the kitchen. I had my own small business for four years, where I focused on small things such as cookies and cake pops. I did really good with it, but more and more people were asking me for cakes.
EO: Was there someone or something that sparked you to pursue this career path?
JG: There were several people and things in my life that kept nudging me to where I am today. When I first started baking, I used every opportunity to utilize my husband’s office to be my taste testers. I would ask and receive their opinions. I usually asked for it to be anonymously, so that they would feel more comfortable about really being honest. The feedback floored me. People began asking to place orders. They started off small and then graduated to orders up to 250 pieces each. The biggest thing that put me on this path was customers asking for decorated cakes and my desire to learn how [to make them].
EO: If you had to choose one, what is your favorite baking memory?
JG: I would have to say my favorite baking memory was when I had first started baking with booze. I was making some cake pops that called for bourbon. Well, they got the bourbon alright – straight up [and] not cooked. I sent these cake pops in with my husband to work. Later that afternoon, I received a call from my husband stating that he was approached by his boss. His boss told him that he had to go to lunch just to sober up. I was mortified while I was hearing this, well, until the story ended with my husband’s boss placing an order for 3 dozen more.
EO: Why did you want to do the online pastry arts certificate program?
JG: I wanted a professional education. I scoured the internet looking for a way that I could achieve my dream, as well as continue to be a wife and mother in the home. Not only did the Online Baking and Pastry Program fall within my financial budget, it also fell into my time budget. It gave me the best of both worlds. I have to admit though, I was a little skeptical because it honestly seemed too good to be true. I have never been more happy to be wrong.
EO: How do you feel like this experience will help you in the future?
JG: Wow, where to begin! Being a self-taught baker, I had a lot to learn. This program has given me such a well- rounded education in the baking and pastry field that I would be able to do most thing in any bakery setting as well as help teach others how to do it. For example, I had never made bread in my life. This has become something that I enjoy just as much as baking cakes. Outside of school I would have never attempted this or pastries on my own. Now I don’t only know how to do it, it is something that I have positive experiences in that will allow me to extend my baking services.
EO: How do you feel like it’s already helped you?
JG: This program has already helped me through leap and bounds. The biggest way is through understanding the different techniques used and why. It has also allowed me to experiment with desserts that I had not heard about or even tried. Now, I have the confidence backed by the knowledge to be able to work in a commercial bakery. I know that I will never stop learning new things, but having the strong baseline that I have received from Escoffier will make it a lot easier moving forward.
EO: What have you enjoyed most about the online program?
JG: I would have to say that the thing I enjoyed most about Escoffier Online, is the connections with people that I have made in my classes while learning together. The instructors and mentors I have worked with have been amazing. I cannot express how much I learned just from listening to them talk about their experiences, whether good or bad. Having other students of different skill levels also allowed for us to connect with each other. Escoffier Online has the feeling of being on a team learning together. I never felt like I was in this all by myself.
Chocolate covered strawberry reconcepted by Jen GrossChocolate covered strawberry with a twist by Jen GrossEO: Would you recommend it to others in the industry? Why?
JG: Absolutely. I was skeptical when I first found Escoffier Online. I wondered how in the world I could attend an online baking and pastry program and still receive a legit certificate. Now I know. The structure of this program is one of the best that I have ever seen. It provides a flexibility, but still hold students to a schedule so this program fits into all schedule types. And the schedule is not the only reason I’d recommend Escoffier Online. I would solely based on the amount you learn. This program covered both the practical and business side of the industry. Then again, there are the chef instructors that are so personable and are not afraid to tell students of their trials and errors as well as their successes. They allow us to learn from their mistakes as well as their knowledge. They want to give you everything that they can in order to allow you to succeed. You just have to commit to yourself and do you work.
EO: Your favorite ingredient to cook with right now is…
JG: I would have to say that my new found favorite to bake with is puff pastry dough. I love how it is so versatile. You can use it in both savory and sweet applications. Not to mention it just melts in your mouth!
EO: What do you hope to achieve after finishing the program?
JG: I actually have several ideas running through my mind about things I would like to do after achieving my certification. The biggest achievement for me is going to be the ability to say “I did it!”. I have thought about opening my own little shop. Being that I am a realist, I know that will take some time and saving to do. I will continue baking for friends and family, while working in the industry. I have also thought about working with kids/teens/adults, to teach them a little bit at a time about baking. This would allow me to give back to the community and help people learn small skills that they can have fun with.
EO: What is your recipe for success?
JG: I would have to say that my recipe for success has simply been setting schedules and making a strong commitment to myself. Once I decided that this was the path I wanted to take, I was determined that I was going to give it my everything. I did have to make some sacrifices along the way, but to me it has been well worth it. The commitment to myself was to engage in class and learn everything that I could possibly learn and then some. I have spent a lot of time diving deeper into the research, took chances to challenge myself and accepted my mistakes. Every mistake I made along the way came with more of a lesson, thus making me a better baker.