Jessica Guckian is a graduate from the Culinary Institute of America where she specialized in baking and pastry. She’s been working in the culinary industry for the past sixteen years, obtaining experience in everything from high-end resorts to mom and pop shops. We caught up with Jessica to chat about her experience as well as what students can expect from her class.
In your bio, you mention you’ve had experience working in everything from “mom and pop shops” to high-end ski resorts. Which experience has been the most rewarding for you?
I find that working at smaller bakeries versus high-end hotels and resorts is a little humbling. The ingredients and the equipment aren't as fancy and you have to be creative on a budget. Don't get me wrong; I loved working at hotels and resorts! I got to play with things I could only dream of and I learned from some amazing chefs, but in the end it's all about the customers. I love knowing who I'm baking for. You don't really get that at a hotel. At smaller bakeries, you get to chat with them, get to know who they are and what they like. That's what makes me happy.
Going off of that, how has your experience in these diverse culinary and professional settings helped shaped your career as a culinary artist?
While in culinary school, I had to do an internship in order to graduate. Up until that point, I had never worked for anything bigger than a cafe. I made cookies and cakes, but nothing really crazy. I was offered an Internship at Stein Eriksen Lodge in Park City Utah—this place was a five star five-diamond resort for the rich and famous. I worked with one of the top 10 chocolatiers in the nation who thought me discipline and respect for the craft. He didn't just show me how to do things, but told me why it was done. He was my Mr. Miyagi...minus the "paint the fence”—European chefs will do that to you.
Has baking always been a passion of yours?
After high school I wanted to go to culinary school, but my parents were against it. They wanted me to go to college and get a normal 9-5 job and so I did. I worked at various bakeries to pay my way through college. At 28 I finally decided to stop doing what my parents wanted me to do and instead, I decided to pursue what made me happy. Someone told me if I were to go to any culinary school, it should be The Culinary Institute of America. It was the only school I applied to—I had never even visited the campus. I got accepted and moved to New York. It was one the best decisions I have ever made, so I guess you could say baking has always been a passion of mine.
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect about baking pastries and sweet treats? What’s your favorite desert to make?
The best part baking is baking for other people—I'm a people pleaser. I love making people happy and have found that desserts make most people happy. I don't have a favorite thing to bake, but eating is a whole different story! I do love baking bread but I rarely ever do it. My husband (who I met in culinary school) does all the bread baking.
What's one fun fact about chocolate that people wouldn't normally know?
Dark chocolate has a lot of health benefits, such as it prevents heart disease and tooth decay. It can also stimulate theta brain waves, which causes relaxation.
To aspiring bakers, what’s the best piece of advice you would give them?
Find someone that will let you work in their kitchen for a while. Do dishes, mop floors, and find someone that's willing to teach you for free. Also try to learn patience for yourself and for others. Read a cookbook or at least look at the pictures. When my husband and I were dating, we used to go on dates to the bookstore and sit on the floor, reading cookbooks we couldn't afford—it was fun.
Tell us a little bit about your class “The Art of Chocolate” that you’ll be teaching at Rochester Brainery on June 24. What can students expect?
My class will provide a little bit of an inside look on chocolate. It’s a combination of history and science and hopefully, a whole lot of fun! If all else fails, you get to take home some free chocolates.
And finally, we have to ask…are you a milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or white chocolate person?
Dark chocolate all the way! But who am I kidding—I love it all!
As teased in one of the questions above, next Wednesday, June 24th, Jessica will be passing along some of her knowledge to us in an entire class devoted to CHOCOLATE- it's going to be sweet! She'll be showing us different ways to temper for the perfect shine and snap as well as how to decorate beautiful shells. And for an added bonus, you will get to make your own caramel or ganache filled truffles to take home!