Truth be told, the pressure on Pastry Chefs, is more than you might think.
It’s a common expression in the culinary world, that while there’s something to be said for making a good “first impression”, it’s equally true, that a “lasting impression”, is made from some of the very last experiences that you have at a restaurant.
From a dessert, to that last sip of coffee.
While her talents might not be showcased until the end of your meal at Cuisine Restaurant, Pastry Chef Jessica Tabaka, knows from her experience, that her pastries are every bit as important to your overall experience, as every dish of Chef Paul’s, that precedes it.
And it’s especially true for Cuisine’s guests, who, perhaps, come in late after a show at the Fisher Theatre for a pastry, coffee or an after-dinner drink.
While preparing for a recent evening’s dinner rush at Cuisine, we had the opportunity to observe Jessica in her native habitat, spatula in hand, while learning just how a 14-year-old girl, starting her career bussing tables at a local Italian restaurant in her hometown of Romeo, Michigan, ended up in one of Detroit’s finest restaurants.
“Pastry wasn’t always my passion, Jessica admitted, in fact when I tried to bake a cake from scratch for my mom’s Birthday at the age of 10, it was a complete disaster.
I proclaimed to my entire family that I hated baking and vowed never to do it again…”
“And at yet, 28 years later, here I am! Ha!” She laughed.
Those who have been bitten by the restaurant biz-bug, know all too well that their career path, (like many of the roads in Michigan), isn’t likely to be well paved.
And so, it was for Jessica.
“As I worked in different establishments, my now dear friend Chef Laurie Dorche saw something in me when I was only 15-16, and she took me under her wing. She inspired me and taught me things; thus, the spark of the passion really began.
Since then, I have over 20 years’ experience collectively in the food service industry, 15 of those being in pastry.
If you were to tell my mom I would have become a pastry chef at the time, she would have never believed it.” She spoke.
Jessica’s passion for love, life and art took her away from Romeo to the big city.
Not Detroit, but Seattle.
It was there that she finished a BFA college degree in Interior Design while still working in restaurants to pay the bills.
But Jessica admitted she was home-sick, so when not studying or working in a restaurant, she got out her old recipe books with all her mom’s, and great grandmother’s recipes.
“I began to bake, a lot, and it helped my homesickness. The more I did it, the more I loved it.
And, it turned out I had a knack for it!
I wasn’t so bad at it after all, in fact I thought “I think I might actually be good at this” …I’d like to think that some of great grandmother comes out in me while I bake, she was an immigrant and the most talented baker in the world (in my eyes).
The passion grew so much, I started a cake business, selling custom cakes to the soldier’s and their families on the military base. All out of my home, at the time.” She smiled.
Fast forward, Jessica moved back to Michigan and continued running a cake business under the cottage foods laws, while also renting spaces from local churches.
“I called it Cake Ambition.” J
“During that time, I also became the executive Pastry Chef at the Whitney (where we won Hour Detroit’s’ Best Desserts 2012) & the DSO for a spell.”Jessica proudly said.
Completely self-taught, it’s obvious to anyone who has the opportunity to spend time in the kitchen with Jessica, that she is not only an artist, but definitely knows how to bake!
And that’s a delicious AND beautiful combination.
The path to Cuisine also made other stops along the way, including renting space to do her pastries and cakes in the former Traffic Jam & Snug kitchen, (for which she is forever grateful), then, opening her brick & mortar cake shop, (Cake Ambition) on the corner of Third and Canfield.
Jessica’s well-known clientele included: Kevin Hart, the Detroit Lions, Detroit Pistons, Mayor Duggan, Jimmy Buffet, Dr. Pol from the Incredible Dr Pol show on Nat Geo Wild.
“On a fun note, I was, and still am, known around the Metro Detroit area for being a WILD and unique cake designer.
My nicknames (in the kitchen), besides Chef, are: Cake Boss, and Lucy, (as in Lucille Ball), because I am known to be a bit clumsy).
I was eventually signed with those same producers for my own show. They filmed for a few years but it was never picked up.” Jessica continued.
Just before Covid, Jessica made the decision to close her shop, marry the love of her life, and start a family.
Now at age 38, she’s getting back into the pastry game.
Her passion and ambition are stronger than ever and she’s looking forward to this new Pastry Chef chapter as she’s switching her focus back to plated desserts.
“I think Chef Paul and I are a great pairing when it comes to culinary. What an honor to work with him.
I am so excited for everyone to see and taste our creations!” She concluded.
With many new pastry ideas in her head, they have been brainstorming.
And the best is yet to come for Cuisine.
The future is bright, and the path is clear.