As COVID-19 spread into a worldwide pandemic, most governors issued quarantine orders for their state, mandating everyone to stay at home. All non-essential businesses were forced to close. Restricted travel orders and mandatory mask requirements were instituted. What do you do with that? You can’t leave your residence, can’t go to work, can’t see family, can’t go window shopping at the mall—what do you do? What do you do to stay sane?
With no apparent end in sight, a lot of people took up baking. When I say a lot, I mean A LOT! In fact, there was a huge flour shortage. #QuarantineBaking was trending in the spring and summer of 2020, and for good reason.
Now, for me, as a professional pastry chef for over a decade, baking is not just my profession but also my passion. I was excited to see so many other people spending some serious time in the kitchen baking cookies, cakes, bread, bread, and more bread. So much bread! Baking is VERY soothing and therapeutic, which came in handy with so much turmoil going on everywhere.
Baking bread from start to finish, in the professional sense, is highly rewarding, and being an amateur baker—or even just a sweets enthusiast—brings a lot of satisfaction. Regardless of the results, the feeling you get as you watch what you made come out of the oven—and you take that first bite—is heaven on earth. I call it: “Fourth of July in a bite.” Fireworks of flavor! Consuming something like that will make you scream: “I WANT TO DO THAT AGAIN!”
I definitely took advantage of #QuarantineBaking to do some recipe testing with doughnuts, bread, and cookies. Yes, I know… the three items with the highest number of calories. Did I gain some weight?? You bet your bottom dollar I did! Was it worth it? ABSOLUTELY! Give me a chocolate-covered doughnut, and I’ll finish it in 4.125 seconds (actually tested!). I’m trying to get under four seconds in 2021.
As we begin the new year, and stay-at-home orders begin to go back into effect, I think #QuarantineBaking will be on the rise again. I have a few friends and colleagues that have launched full-fledged businesses after being furloughed from their pastry chef jobs. With hardship, there is always opportunity.
With the undoubted turmoil of thousands of restaurants and hospitality establishments closing, it brings me joy to see some innovative businesses start, some by people I know personally. Contactless pick-up, doorstep delivery, virtual cooking classes, the list goes on. I’m looking forward to some more POSITIVE and exciting things to come in 2021, stemming from #QuarantineBaking of 2020.
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Jesse B. Jackson III
Jesse studied baking and pastry arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. Jesse competed in the state competition for SkillsUSA. He won 1st place in commercial baking and placed 4th in the national competition. After graduation, Jesse moved to Boston and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park for another degree in baking and pastry arts. He was then offered the position of executive pastry chef at No.9 Park, one of the country’s most esteemed restaurants. After two years, Jesse started a business called Fedora Doughnuts, a specialty doughnut and coffee catering company. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fedora Doughnuts had to cease operations mid-2020, however, shortly afterwards Jesse made a career shift into the Culinary Education field and accepted an offer to become a Baking & Pastry Chef Instructor at The Culinary Institute of America. A position he’s been preparing for his entire career.
If Mars was livable, and you accept a one-way ticket to host a party there, who would you invite (4 guests max), and what would you cook?
I would invite my mother because she birthed me and has ALWAYS supported me throughout my life and career. I would invite Jeff Goldblum, a handsome, suave, slender gentleman (like myself), and a great conversationalist. He would make dining interesting. Dominique Ansel: a visionary pastry chef. I would LOVE to pick his mind about innovation and creativity. Lastly, I would invite my mentor and godmother, Darcy Sala. She taught me everything I know about food and hospitality. I wouldn’t be where I am today in my career without her. I would cook the cuisine I love most: Carolina BBQ! Ribs, brisket, cornbread, slaw, smoked sausage.
Do you have any ridiculous goals in life?
Apart from being a pastry chef, I am also an avid real estate investor. So, I suppose a “ridiculous goal” would be to own 1000 rental properties across the United States, but I’m in no rush… at least before I retire.
What’s your favorite food holiday?
National Croissant Day!