CHEF JESSICA LEUNG
Jessica Leung grew up in Boston, MA and attended Drexel University in Philadelphia where she studied Culinary Arts and Communications. While in school and after graduating, Jessica spent time working on the savory side in the kitchen before deciding she wanted to learn more about pastry. She worked for a few years at Barclay Prime with STARR restaurants in Philadelphia before relocating to help open a restaurant with the group in New York City. From there, she spent time honing her skills within Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Restaurant Group with stints at Bar Boulud, Boulud Sud and DB Bistro. Afterwards, she spent some time at the Michelin starred restaurant The NoMad Restaurant. Since then, she has been working for Andrew Carmellini’s NYC based NoHo Hospitality. She started at The William Vale in Brooklyn before relocating to spearhead the pastry program of the Shinola Hotel in Detroit, Michigan. Her style is defined by elegance by incorporating modern flavors and technique while maintaining the integrity of classic desserts.
What inspired you to enter the world of pastry?
During my senior year of high school, I decided I wanted to pursue a career as a food writer because I enjoyed baking and English class, so I thought, what would be cooler than getting paid to eat at restaurants for a living? I had to know what I was talking about when writing so working in the industry for a year or two was always part of the plan. Little did I know that my career goals would change — I ended up putting writing on the backburner and focused more time working in kitchens.
Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
I find inspiration from cookbooks, magazines, ingredients, other chefs I admire — everywhere really.
Who in your life has been the biggest mentor/inspiration in your career?
There are so many people I look up to and draw inspiration from but I’m going to narrow it down to a few individuals that have personally helped shape my career thus far. The first ones are my parents who helped to pave the path I’m currently on. Thankfully, they believed I would use my better judgment in important matters and trusted me to attend a college miles away from home. I was fortunate enough to experience living on my own for the first time in a different city from where I grew up in. It was also through my time at Drexel I got to partake in a study abroad program that allowed me to go to London and see a little bit of the world outside the country.
The first pastry chef I got to work with was Christina Popovich. When I made the jump from being a savory cook to wanting to learn about pastry, she saw something and offered me a job when I had no prior pastry experience. Christina ended up being someone I consider a mentor and it was through her guidance that I learned to gain confidence in the kitchen.
After leaving Philadelphia, I took a job at Bar Boulud in New York City. It was there that I built my foundation of pastry fundamentals and technique. I was pushed and challenged in so many ways by a handful of incredible station partners and chefs including Chefs Tyler Atwell and Eric Bertoia to name a few. I learned about the importance of quality ingredients and how to visualize and compose a dish once I knew the basics. When I began my transition into the hotel world, Chef Jason Casey at The William Vale helped to teach me what being a leader entails and what it means to see the bigger picture while also remembering the finer details.
How is your team responding to the new realities of the world during and eventually post-COVID-19?
In this new COVID world, my team has been reduced by half so we're all learning how to adjust day by day while still doing what we love to do without getting burnt out too quickly. We’re all trying to maintain a sense of positivity as rules and mandates change daily. We’ve been forced to find new creative ways to cross utilize products more than ever now as a way to save time and money but it has also allowed us to ask more questions and communicate more with each other. Going into the future, I hope that open dialogue continues and that we’re checking in on one another.
What are your hopes for the future of the world of food and pastry?
Even with all of the uncertainties of the future, I still hope that we will continue to support one another and remain connected. I hope people will gain a better understanding of what it means to support independent small businesses and to support them as best they can.
What is your earliest dessert memory?
My mother started making monkey bread every Thanksgiving morning after a friend of hers made it for an elementary school breakfast. It has now become a tradition and she continues to make it every year. It’s not always easy to make it back home for the holidays when working in our industry, but I always think about family breakfast every Thanksgiving. As I was going through menu changes post quarantine, I wanted to put something on a menu that reminded me of home. To keep my mother's influence but to reflect my style, I put my take of a morning bun on the brunch menu at San Morello. It’s not prepared like my mother’s but the smell and flavor are very much there. For our variation, we take croissant dough, roll it up with cinnamon sugar, let the butter and sugar caramelize and when it comes out of the oven, we brush it with an orange blossom syrup.
What is your favorite perk of the Cercle V program?
Learning about new products and getting inspiration from other chefs.
Celsius or Fahrenheit?
Favorite Valrhona Chocolate?
Valrhona 61% extra bitter or Gianduja Noisette Lait.
Favorite flavor pairing with chocolate?
Fleur de Sel.
Coffee or Tea?
Can’t decide, I’m a fan of both.
Favorite type of dessert to make?
A nice butterscotch budino or chocolate pots de creme.