Life is Sweet for Jackie Joseph

Aug 26, 2021 | Food, Living

Jackie Joseph, now owner of her own bakery named JJBakes & Co., struggled when she lost her job during the pandemic, but went on to win the Food Network’s competition show Best Baker in America.

When this baker lost her job during the pandemic, she had to think outside the (cake) box to get by. But now, she’s living the sweet life again.

Jackie Joseph’s story sounds like a sensational headline:

Nutritionist-Turned-Baker Gets Laid Off Amidst Pandemic,
Starts Selling Firearms, Then Becomes the Best Baker in America!

Except that it’s true. That is pretty much how Jackie, the 31-year old, red-haired Eastern Kentucky native, skyrocketed to sweet stardom.

The actual story starts in her mother’s Prestonsburg, Kentucky, kitchen. As a child, Jackie was surrounded by love, red velvet cake, and buttercream icing. “I grew up watching my mother make wedding and birthday cakes that she would give as gifts or favors. It is how she gave love to people, in the form of a cake. Oddly enough, baking is not at all what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a dietitian and personal trainer,” Jackie says.

So, after high school, Jackie went to the University of Kentucky to study nutrition. It only took a year, however, for Jackie to be put back on her sugar-coated path. “I realized that was not what I wanted to do. I love to bake! So I started looking at recipes and got obsessed. That was one of the most decisive moments of my life. I found my obsession and love for baking in pastry school at Sullivan.”

Jackie participated in and won Food Network’s America’s Best Baker contest.

At Sullivan University, Jackie became the only student to be chosen to go to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. That experience jump-started her career. Upon her return, she entered the hotel industry, where she fell in love with the fast-paced, service-driven niche of customizing specialty desserts. After years in Lexington and Louisville at the Brown Hotel, she helped to open the Omni, but lost her job during the pandemic. The demise of the hospitality industry during quarantine forced Jackie to take a huge step out of her comfort zone into the world of firearm sales. And in this strange place, Jackie participated in and won Food Network’s Best Baker in America contest.

“They [the firearm company] allowed me to go to Tucson for the three weeks of the show. Since there was a three-hour time difference, I was able to make sales calls in the mornings before the show and on breaks,” Jackie says.

Jackie contributes her success to a few factors. First, she approaches each recipe with a holistic, well-rounded concept. “I want the sweet to be balanced with the salt, the bitter, the sour. I want the textures and flavor profiles to play on your tongue. As a kid, I was only drawn to the overly sweet — buttercream icing and cotton candy. Now as I get older, my tastes have evolved, and I look for balance. Baklava is my new favorite.”

Cake created by Jackie Joseph.

Secondly, she chooses recipes that tug at people’s heartstrings. “My specialty is customizing for others. I want my desserts to feel like home, to remind my customers of growing up.” Jackie did just that on the second episode of the show, when she made a hazelnut frangipane with salted-caramel ganache for a judge whose mother was German. As the judge, known for her biting criticisms, tasted the cake, Jackie could see tears in her eyes. “She started speaking in her mother’s voice and told me it was her mother’s cake. It was an amazing moment,” Jackie recalls.

Lastly, Jackie’s creations take copious amounts of planning and revision. “There are so many hours that go into a final product. Hours go into thinking about a dessert — how does it represent the customer, the aesthetics, the taste profile, the texture? Does it hit the sweet, salty, and bitter notes? It is a very intimate process; I take it very seriously. I never want to do anything with half of my heart. My creations come from a whole heart, so there are lots of trial runs.”

At the time of our interview, Jackie had just finished her last week in gun sales so that she could focus on her next move, JJBakes & Co., Jackie’s first bakery, opening in August, will showcase some of the desserts featured on the Food Network show, as well as offer customized specialty orders.

Check out tomorrow’s post for a light and delicious summery dessert treat created by Jackie Joseph.

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