Let me introduce myself…

Hey there!

and Welcome to my blog!

I can’t believe I’m writing that…I can’t believe I’m writing at all, in fact. If you had asked me 15 years ago if I would pursue an endeavor like this, I would have said absolutely not.

I actually did enjoy writing, but only on the level of getting my college work done. 15 years ago I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. I loved kids and saw potential in that, but soon (after student teaching at a few schools) I realized I hated the red tape (and parent intervention) of the whole thing.

So, on to Plan B.

But what was that?

Throughout college, I worked as a nanny for one of the more wonderful families I’ve ever met. They were so down to earth and motivating – I absolutely loved my time with them. Being the workaholic I’ve always been, my school schedule shifted to part-time while I finished up my degree, so I decided to look for a second job.

This family hooked me up with one of their friends who was running her cake and event planning business from home and needed an assistant. The schedule worked out and I started straight away.

A fondant cake inspired by peonies from Simplify Marketplace

Soon after, we outgrew her house and opened up shop down the street with a full commercial kitchen and more space called Simplify Marketplace. She taught me the fundamentals of fondant cakes (and how to plan a great party!) and I realized I wasn’t half bad at it. Little did I know this baking business would grow on me bit by bit.

A first birthday fondant cake

Enter Plan B.

Somewhere in the midst of this, I decided to nix the teaching idea and went for a brief stint of business school. This didn’t work out due to my apparent aversion to College Statistics.

Enter Plan C – The Institute of Culinary Education in NYC.

I went through the Pastry & Baking program there and learned all the chemistry and technique that went into the basic knowledge that I had acquired while working at the bakery. This opened up my nerd brain to LOVE everything that went into it. The breads, pastries, ice creams, doughs….it was all so captivating.

My graduation from ICE in NYC, voted Most Likely to Succeed!

While there, I went and staged at a few big names in New York for my externship – among them Gramercy Tavern and Lafayette Grand Cafe, and a few in NJ (Ninety Acres and Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen) but quickly discovered commuting from NJ into the city for an unpaid externship would not pay my rent. I started at JHBK that summer working with Pastry Chefs Andrea Lekberg and Erika Leahy. They had a wicked pastry program running with an awesome team that put out some great desserts. Being there really taught me the way of the restaurant and how the great beast is run.

Despite the thrill and adrenaline rush of busy Saturday night service and the inspiration drawn from working with the pastry team, I came to realize that I didn’t want to be on opposite schedules as my family. My fiancé (now husband) and I saw each other like ships in the night, him working a 9-5 as a land surveyor and myself at the bakery by day and the restaurant on nights and weekends. This is when I realized the restaurant life would not be my end all, be all.

Back to bakeries

My pastry chef Andrea was a quirky, fun loving, and driven woman who owned another bakery down the road, The Artist Baker. They needed some assistance and I needed a less crazy schedule, so I jumped at the chance. While there, she taught me the art of working with cakes and macarons. While the restaurant taught me speed and accuracy in bulk, she showed me the artistry of the buttercream cake and the detail work of small cookies and pastries.

French macarons from The Artist Baker

She then introduced me to her good friend (who turned out to be my neighbor!) Elana Iaciofano, who is also an amazingly driven woman, photographer, and entrepreneur. At the time, she had a mobile wood fired brick oven that was built into a truck that we would use for events, photo shoots, and the occasional bread baking experiments. So much pizza and so much fun! Elana taught me the fundamentals of working with fire and the fine details of food photography.

Elana, my husband Richie and I working the Zaza pizza truck

With Andrea, we cooked together for loads of different events. Among these, fundraisers for the Seeing Eye, farm dinners at Blooming Hill Farm in Monroe, NY and catered pit stops for the Gran Fondo cycling event.

Andrea, Elana and I cooking at The Seeing Eye Fundraiser

The Network of the Food Industry

One of the most beautiful things about the food industry is the network of people and how that network can work for you. One of my good friends Danielle Salsburg, who studied culinary arts in Cap d’agde, France, managed a local sandwich shop in Madison, NJ called Slamwich Scratch Kitchen. Their call to fame is their bang-a-rang sandwiches, with everything made in house. It’s owned by butcher George Braun and chef Sam Freund.

The chef had an impressive resume, having been the Executive Chef at One if by Land, Two if by Sea in NYC and TAG Restaurant group in Denver, CO. Unbeknownst to me, Chef Sam was opening a fine dining, farm-to-table inspired restaurant and was looking for staff. Danielle gave him my contact, we met and I started as the Pastry Chef of White Birch Restaurant in Flanders, NJ.

The White Birch crew after we were voted Top 30 Restaurants in NJ

A Thrill

This experience was one of the most exciting thus far in my career. During my time there, I was incredibly inspired by the chefs I worked with. Sam is an immensely hard working and compassionate chef, who thinks outside the box with his creations and knows how to make everyone feel comfortable in the kitchen. He encouraged me to explore new flavor combinations and push the envelope in ways I had never done before.

Sam Freund and I working at a fundraiser for the Community FoodBank of NJ

We created an incredible menu that was ingredient focused to highlight the local farms that we worked with. During my time there, we collaborated with the farmers to host a Farm Dinner Series, where we invited guests to taste how we used their product, and the farmers got to talk about the growing process. We curated a kitchen garden with farmer Morgan Hess from Let it Grow Farm. Everyday was a learning experience.

Chef Sam and I with Farmer Morgan Hess at Let it Grow Farm in Chester, NJ

And life changes…

Soon after, my husband and I discovered we were expecting our gorgeous little girl and I couldn’t be more excited. As much as I loved the food industry, I was so jazzed to become a mom (and not just to my adorable dog Frankenstein).

So now to make it all work together!

One month before I was set to go on my maternity leave, Covid-19 hit the US and the food industry was impacted dramatically – if not just for the near future, but perhaps for a long time. I believe a lot of chefs will be looking for different ways to be involved in the industry, as the lack of jobs is only just beginning.

One of my favorite mantras is

“Life is fluid.”

There isn’t only one way to live your life, you aren’t stuck in a career because that’s what you chose when you turned 18. Life throws softballs, curve balls, fastballs…we adapt! It’s human nature.

So, onto blogging!

And baking and gardening and cooking and writing and cleaning and mama-ing.

And all the skills I’ve accumulated over the years. Check out my first post How to Cook like a Chef at Home and be sure to comment and let me know what you think!

If you’d like to get my posts directly to your email every week, be sure to subscribe at the top of this page to stay up to date on what I’ve got going on.

Taking on this new role has me so excited and I feel driven to be the best that I can be. Throughout my career, I’ve gathered skills from everyone I’ve ever worked with and am thrilled to have a platform to share those ideas with you. I’m a big believer that you never stop learning, unless you decide not to.

Another mantra –

“You don’t know everything, and if you think you do, then you’re just an ass.”

I’m eager to continue growing and learning in this new point in my life and would love to have you along for the ride. Thanks for reading!

Cheers! Mel

About the author

2 Comments

  1. I love your new adventure and you too.
    I’m still digging through your blog, enjoying every minute.
    Rich, Father in Law and grandfather to the little angel.

    1. Thank you! New adventures are fun and so are you. Thanks for reading!

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