Update! June 23, 2017
Interview and photos by Kara Chin
Pastry Chef Jennifer Yee may have earned a degree in Fine Arts for Interior Architecture from San Jose State University, but her ultimate passion has become keeping people happy with her pastries and desserts. Her culinary background includes studying at Le Cordon Bleu, and she has worked diligently as a pastry chef at Gilt, Aureole, SHO Shaun Hergatt, The Breslin, and the Lafayette Grand Café and Bakery.
CC: How does your background in interior architecture lend itself to your work here at Lafayette Grand Café and Bakery?
“Well, when I was studying, we took a lot of art classes: art history, art theory. I think a lot of those art classes helped hone my eye in creating beautiful plates.”
CC: Did you always know you wanted to become a pastry chef? When did you know?
“I knew from a fairly young age, even before I studied interior architecture. I knew I wanted to create something that would make people happy. What better way than to make them a cake or do something for them to celebrate?”
CC: So, were you always in the kitchen, before culinary school?
“Yeah. My family is very focused around food and family meals. My uncle opened a small restaurant when I was young. So I was able to get a lot of home practice in, with my family around. It was just a small American restaurant.”
CC: You spent time studying and working in Britain. What were some highlights from that experience?
“I went to Le Cordon Bleu in London. It was a great experience. While I was in school, I got a job at Gordon Ramsay at The Connaught. I spent a year and a half there. It was very eye-opening. We were working extremely long hours, but everybody was so passionate about what they were doing. The standard of quality was so high. I followed that with Yauatcha, a dim sum with a French patisserie. It was an unusual concept, but I really got a lot of great experience honing my French technique and infusing that technique with Asian ingredients.”
CC: Is there a particular technique that you learned there?
“More than technique, I learned a lot of discipline there. My chef at the time was French and was very strict with how things were done. I learned how to manipulate the ingredients. But I think what he really taught me was discipline.”
CC: You have your own blog, you’re active on Twitter (with over 2,400 followers) and on Instagram. What impact has social media played in your work as a pastry chef?
“I think more than anything it’s connected me with other pastry chefs who I wouldn’t normally come across. I’ve connected with people in different countries, people from around the States. I think that’s one of my favorite parts of being a part of the social network: being able to communicate with other people in the field.
“Some of them I’ve never met before. Some of them I’ve met first on Twitter or other social media and then in person after or vice versa. I’ve actually gained a couple of assistants and cooks through social media.”
CC: Throughout your career, is there a dish or ingredient that you’re most known for?
“I don’t know if I’ve been a pastry chef long enough to be known for a specific ingredient or dish. I think my chocolate almond torte was pretty popular, at the time it was out. This apple tart has been mentioned in a couple of publications. It’s one of the signature dishes [at Lafayette].”
CC: What does being a pastry chef mean to you?
“It fits my personality. It fits my work ethic. It fits my artistic side. And at the same time, you’re hopefully making people happy, or giving them a few minutes of escape [through] food.”
CC: What do you enjoy most about working at Lafayette Grand Café and Bakery?
“I love my team. I look forward to working with the people I work with every day. I look forward to the hands-on work that I do. I look forward to meeting new people because I go upstairs to the café quite often. I look forward to creating and coming up with new products, either on my own or collaborating with my sous chefs or team members.”
CC: What challenges do you have as a pastry chef?
“We are so busy that sometimes it is a challenge to keep up with the volume and the changing menu – and trying to keep your work fresh.”
CC: Is there anything you’re experimenting with now?
“It’s been a tough winter, so I think everyone is ready for spring to come, and the ingredients of spring. It will be nice to start working with different varieties of fruit. I’d like to use rhubarb first.”
CC: What is the next big project that you are working on?
“Lafayette is where I’m at, hopefully, for a long time. So I hope Lafayette’s popularity can keep me very busy.”
Pastry Chef Jennifer Yee’s List of Accolades: