Jen Yee, the head of the pastry program at Chef Andrew Carmellini’s N.Y.C.-based grand café and bakery Lafayette, can now add "James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef finalist" to her resumé. A graduate of London's Le Cordon Bleu, Yee trained at Gordon Ramsay’s The Connaught in London and went on to hold a number of prestigious positions at New York restaurants like Yauatcha, Aureol, Gilt, and SHO (the latter two now closed). In addition to her James Beard nomination, Yee has won the Rising Star Pastry Chef award and been named a Food & Wine Best New Pastry Chef.
Below, Yee answers a few of our burning questions—read through, and then check out her epic Billionaire's Shortbread recipe our friends at Food & Wine nabbed. Perfect for a hostess gift or summer entertaining.
What's your earliest memory in the kitchen?
As a toddler, I remember watching my mom make an apple pie and being mesmerized by it! She let me roll the leftover dough and cut shapes out of it. We sprinkled the shapes with sugar and baked them off like cookies. We also used to have "Hot Dog Day" once a month at grade school, and students had to take turns bringing in cupcakes. My working, single mom would just use the box mix and frosting and let me help. It wasn't until years later that I realized that using box mixes wasn't actually baking from scratch!
Who is the chef you admire the most and why?
I admire so many and for so many reasons. Among my contemporaries, I love Dana Cree's work and I was obsessed with Brooks Headley's desserts while he was at Del Posto. And you definitely can't ignore the success of Dominique Ansel and his bottomless vault of creativity. He’s also a really nice guy.
What made you become a chef?
I've always had an artsy streak and I've always loved food, so I guess I just ran with it.
I hate this question because there's never a simple answer. When I first started out, I was obsessed with Claudia Fleming's The Last Course ($86; amazon.com). When I lived in London (a very long time ago), I couldn't keep my eyes off of Frederic Bau's Au Coeur des Saveurs ($300; amazon.com). I think the most recent book I've bought was Justin Gellatly's Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding ($22; amazon.com). His doughnuts are seriously world class. I'm also a baking anglophile.
Who do you follow on Instagram for inspiration, or even just some laughs?
I just started following @dessertparlour, based in Melbourne. Their stuff looks delicious! I follow @rawsometreats for Watt's beautiful raw desserts. @pipsbread when I'm feeling sour. Next time I'm in Paris, I'm heading straight to @Restaurant_AT to eat art on a plate. Architecture, design, and cat grams also show heavily on my feed.