OF BON GOT | A local pastry chef on the small screen – VC Reporter


Goofy pastry chef Jess Modzelewski decorates a gingerbread house during episode 1 of The dozen bakers. Photo courtesy of Hulu

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Baker’s dozen
Online streaming on Hulu

The clumsy pastry chef
Jess modzelewski
[email protected]
@ clumsy pastry chef

The Great British Cake is one of the most popular cooking contests on television, enjoyed by fans on both sides of the pond and beyond. (It is known in the United States as The Great British Pastry Fair due to the fact that Pillsbury owns the trademark on “Bake Off.”) The hosts are funny and knowledgeable. Amateur bakers always impress with their skill, passion and creativity. And the whole show is imbued with such warmth and camaraderie that even famed Paul Hollywood crank can’t distort the mellow, mellow vibe.

The Hulu streaming service takes inspiration from this format with its own amateur baking contest, Dozen of the baker, an eight-episode show that debuted on October 7. Ventura Pastry Chef Jess Modzelweski was one of the nominees and answered a few questions from the Ventura County reporter about her career in the kitchen, her experience on the show and more.

Were you born and raised in Ventura County?

I grew up in Ventura (holler Saticoy Elementary and Balboa Middle School!) And left for high school in Washington State. I have worked a lot over the years. . . Olympia, Los Angeles, Boston and even Krakow, Poland for an eventful year! But Ventura has always felt like my home base and I find myself here often. When the pandemic started, I was living and working in Silverlake, Los Angeles. The cost of rent and the bakery’s low wages brought me back to Ventura in August 2020 to run the bakery for an upscale grocery store in Santa Barbara.

Where do you live now?

I am currently in Midtown Ventura.

How did you start as a professional pastry chef?

I always knew that I wanted to end up in a field where I could create. Initially, I thought about becoming an artist, going through the stages of a Bachelor of Fine Arts program in Washington State, then a Masters of Fine Arts program at Tufts (working towards the ultimate goal of art teacher). I worked on painting, installation work, then screen printing and model making. Six years of graduate school and $ 180,000 in student loans later, I fell completely in love and exhausted myself from working in academia.

In 2015, I found myself working in a technology position in Krakow, Poland. I missed American candy so much and couldn’t find what I needed for a simple Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Out of necessity, I taught myself how to make a pie crust from scratch. My pastry completely took off from there!

Soon I was bringing treats to the office every week, feeding my Polish colleagues apple pie, chocolate chip cookies, layered cakes and more. I found baking to be the creative outlet that I desperately missed.

A clumsy pastry creation Submitted photo

Upon my return to the United States, my education culminated in a one-year apprenticeship at Butter Cake Shoppe in Los Feliz. Under the guidance of Chef / Owner Sasha Gustafson, I learned the ins and outs of large-scale bakery production, how to decorate cakes, how to take orders, and more.

When did you open Awkward Pastry?

I opened Awkward Pastry in parallel in 2019, taking a few pop-ups here and there, doing babka for my friend The Bad Jew [thebadjewla.com], selling the occasional mixed pastry box and holiday orders. In November 2020, I quit my day job as a bakery manager at a Santa Barbara grocery store and took Awkward Pastry full time! Currently, I work at Summit Kitchen in Ventura, a local shared commercial kitchen space, with pickups in Midtown Ventura scheduled on Fridays and Saturdays.

Based on your portfolio, your creations are anything but clumsy! How did you come up with the name Awkward Pastry?

I’m a small bakery with an eclectic range of seasonal items like babka, apple cider donut cake, Basque passion fruit cheesecake, as well as personalized celebration cakes and a variety of cookies. very special. But what really sets me apart is that even though I have a set menu like everyone else, I love to accommodate special requests! Customers will come and ask me for their favorite treat, and I’ll do my best to accommodate anything. A Black Forest cake? You got it! Gluten Free Pumpkin Cheesecake? Yum, let’s go. A rainbow-inspired Italian cookie with matcha and raspberry? Damn A!

Want a gender revealing cake covered in fondant? No. Get out of here ! The genre is a construct and the fondant tastes terrible. MDR! But really !!! I truly believe that not all business should come my way if it doesn’t make my heart sing or if I don’t agree with the execution. And by the way, that’s why I’m Awkward Pastry! I don’t have a filter, I come in full force with my personality, and I’m unapologetically awkward with disarming candor and a weird sense of humor. It took a while for me to accept myself as I am, but I’m finally here and so grateful to my clients who love me for me.

How did you get involved with Baker’s dozen?

A casting director contacted me about Baker’s dozen almost a year ago. They found my Instagram page and we had a few phone calls and then a Zoom call to see how I would present on camera.

What was it like to be on the show?

The experience was wild! I was not allowed to tell anyone what I was doing, making it took quite a bit of preparation on my part, and all the time it was going down I had to keep getting awkward orders and selling cakes ( I have to earn a living!).

Awkward pastry chef Jess Modzelewski. Submitted photo

I will always remember the night before the shoot and trying to find a two-tier cake for a friend in Malibu before I left for Sylmar Ranch, and then not getting a night’s sleep while eagerly awaiting the challenge. When I arrived at 6 a.m. it was still dark outside, very cold, and we were warned not to talk to anyone around us. So here we are all in our little bubbles, eyeing the competition, what each was wearing, wondering what each was about to perform. . . and then boom! We had an hour to decorate a gingerbread house.

What did you find most difficult about being on the show? What was the most rewarding?

The hardest part of being on the show was finding a way to be comfortable with my voice, knowing full well that anything I said out loud would be immortalized on Hulu forever! Ahhhhh, the post-production anxiety attacks were very real, not knowing how I would cope or what sequences would make the cut. And then my real challenge, decorating a gingerbread house ?! What a nightmare! It’s not my skill to do something with royal icing and fondant, and in the end I wasn’t judged on my cooking at all.

The most rewarding part of being on Baker’s dozen was to connect with my fellow losers from the first round in post-production. I have met some incredibly talented chefs who work the same way, have daytime bakery jobs, and are so immensely talented at them, outside of a gingerbread house challenge. We bonded and connected, and I find that’s what brought me to food in the first place: community!

Any surprises, on the show or on yourself, that occurred during the competition?

I was surprised how nervous I really was in real life! I’m an extremely outgoing person, I can still find myself making friends in a crowd, but just turn the camera towards me and I lose my confidence. Since then, other casting directors have contacted me and my response has always been, “No, I can’t, but I want to buy a cake ??? “

What’s next for Jess Modzelewski and Awkward Pastry?

I’m looking for a brick and mortar space! All I have encountered at Ventura is a large 3,000 square foot commercial kitchen space. I need 500 square feet max! I’m a small business, but it would be my dream come true to serve walk-in customers downtown or Midtown Ventura. In the meantime, keep an eye on my holiday menu as the real MVP of the baking, pies and cookies season approaches !! I’ll have all kinds of fun and tasty items available for pre-order, and I’ll sell out quickly this year.

Be sure to follow Modzelewski on Instagram @awkwardpastrychef.


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