A Baker’s Home Made Career
Following the sometimes winding road from interest to passion to career.
Double-chocolate cookies with sea salt. Powdered-sugar-covered mini key lime whoopie pies. Pumpkin and white chocolate sugar cookies with cream cheese frosting and glazed walnuts. Maple bacon brownies. This list of decadent treats only skims the surface of what pastry chef Jen Evans is capable of creating.
Hedwig, Harry Potter’s pet snowy owl, in the form of a birthday cake? Sure, Jen can make that. R2D2? You’ve got it. When Jen Evans says that her favorite treat to make is a cake, it is not hard to believe. “They’re so festive and fun and beautiful,” she says. “You could make one every day for a year and they would all be different.”
Humble and kind-hearted, Jen Evans has a story that’s inspiring. Her path to becoming a talented baker was not direct; there were turns in the road. Sometimes a less linear route is more interesting – especially when someone re-discovers something about themselves along the way and perhaps returns to an earlier passion. In Jen’s case, she never lost her passion. When she had children, she took a break from baking to explore other aspects of the culinary world — and now she approaches being a baker and pastry chef in a fresh way.
Becoming increasingly interested in baking, Jen studied the two cookbooks she had at her house. She saved recipe clippings from the Chicago Tribune Food & Dining Section. She watched Julia Child on PBS. When she was 15, Jen worked in a restaurant for the first time – as a hostess at a Swensen’s Ice Cream Parlor. During her college years, she continued to work in restaurants, waiting on customers, and making sandwiches and bagels.
As an adult, she rediscovered her love of baking and began to bake at home. Encouraged by her husband to consider culinary school, Jen worked at the Portsmouth Gas Light Company (Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA) as a line cook to gain the year of experience required for culinary school. She then applied to the Culinary Institute of America and was accepted into the Baking and Pastry Arts Program. She completed the Bachelor’s program and earned her college degree after a hiatus from school.
After school, Jen and her husband lived in New Jersey and she commuted into New York City, which posed challenges. It’s hard to have a kitchen job and commute, as pastry chefs work very early hours. Since she needed a job, she switched directions and worked as a wine buyer/sales person/in-house chef for tastings. “It was a great job,” she recalls, “but the chef part of it took a back seat to the sales part, and the commute was burning me out.” Her next position was at Applegate Farms, working in product development. Remembering that time, she says, “the thought of having a desk where I could actually sit and have weekends off sounded like a dream.” She worked there up until right before giving birth to her first son in 2006.
Considering her path and her experience, Jen says, “It’s been about a million years since I’ve been doing anything resembling actual kitchen work. I can’t even remember what my first home baking job was.” Since settling in New Hampshire in 2007, Jen has been making cakes for friends and acquaintances. If you show up at a 10-year-old’s birthday party and see a cake that leaves you breathless at the sight of it, it’s probably one of Jen’s cakes.
Her modest attitude is genuine. Recently asked about these cakes, she said, “I am totally out of my comfort zone when someone asks for a cake that looks like something [in particular]. We never learned how to do that stuff in culinary school — classics only.” One would never know this is not her absolute go-to comfort zone. She makes it look easy. Mostly she cares about making a delicious cake and perhaps changing the course of one’s day. “I love being able to make something with my two hands. Something that will be the highlight of a person’s day — whether it’s family, a friend or a total stranger,” she says.
Jen has a sense of humor about where she is in her culinary career at the moment. She is actively baking and taking on freelance jobs, and as she puts it, trying to stay current.
“I try to stay current as best I can about what’s trendy but it’s hard. Trends develop very quickly especially with social media. The CIA [Culinary Institute of America] is teaching a ‘taking food pictures for Instagram’ class, for Pete’s sake, and I don’t even have a smart phone, let alone Instagram. So, I am less immersed in what’s happening than I used to be.”
Jen considers herself her harshest critic and says she is rarely one hundred percent satisfied with what she has made. “Because I’ve only been working from home occasionally instead of in a bakery baking every day, I feel like a fraud. I doubt myself all the time. But I love what I do and don’t want to do anything else so that motivates me to take the baby steps toward my own legit business. I don’t want to run the world — I just want to have a few customers who love what I make for them.”
Jen is working toward creating a little niche for herself in her community. She is spreading the magic of her baked goods when she arrives at a birthday party with a creation that adults, not just children, stare at. And then they stare even more when they take a bite and experience the mouth-watering flavors.
Jen is doing what inspires her. She has circled back to something she loved a long time ago, and still loves. She is a perfect example of someone who is not letting go of a dream, and not forgetting what it is that she loves and is good at. It is easy to say we will never stop doing what we love or pursuing our talents, but too often we do let the pull of life get in the way; we spread ourselves thin, take on too much and often forget the importance of doing what we love.
Jen Evans and her insanely good creations are a reminder to return to your passion and experience it from a new perspective.