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Alumni Spotlight: Jackie Tissiere (’11)

March 16, 2018 / Catherine Nicholas / Blog

Jackie Tissiere (’11) is one of the alumni we’re looking forward to having back at MLWGS for Alumni Showcase on Friday, March 30, 2018.  They currently work as executive pastry chef and kitchen manager at Whisk in Shockoe Bottom.  “I knew I wanted to be a baker from the time I was around sixteen,” Jackie explains.  “I was determined to do something that would make me happy, and that would make other people happy. I’d been baking since I was a kid, and I spent a lot of time foisting experimental baking off on people in high school, and it sort of occurred to me that nothing made someone as happy, as fast, as a cookie. Thus, a career was born.”

After graduating from MLWGS, Jackie attended Tufts University in Boston.  Knowing that a college degree “wasn’t particularly relevant to my career interests,” they were ambivalent about being there.  However, “I love to learn and felt like I wasn’t finished with academic pursuits,” Jackie says, and they found many ways to make the four years worthwhile.  For example, they worked all four years at a work-study job at a local community center that “involved a lot of kickball refereeing and card games (you can’t know the true meaning of high stakes until you’ve dealt blackjack to a table of 3rd graders).”

They also spent much of college looking for a job in the baking field, which, they note, is very difficult to do if you have no training or experience.  “I actually started working at a camp in Boston during the summer teaching cooking to kids, and that was just enough of something vaguely resembling relevant experience to get me a job at the bottom of the bakery food chain,” they explain.  “I started working at a place called Tatte, which is a chain of local bakeries in Boston and Cambridge, and I worked there my entire senior year of college. That job and that training basically kicked down the door for me and my future kitchen opportunities.”

Looking back on their college experience, Jackie remembers the people with particular fondness.  “I met some lovely, wonderful, endlessly supportive people in college. I won some kind of cosmic roommate lottery freshman year and was paired with a true gem of a person, who remains my best friend to this day.”  They also note how supportive the faculty in the religion department was of their ambition.  “I still keep in touch with my advisor when I can, and it’s definitely thanks to him and the other religion faculty that I made it to graduation.”

Jackie has been at Whisk since 2016, at a job that doesn’t have a typical workday built into its structure.  “Sometimes I start at 5am, sometimes not until noon,” they explain.  “If I’m the first shift that day, I do the morning bake-off (croissants, muffins, pastries, etc.). If there are people there already I check to see how the day’s going, how busy it’s been, what needs to get done right away. I always check the production list (which is a never-ending white board list of tasks that need to be finished) and make sure it’s got everything on it we need. Then I get started. Early shifts mean croissant production – mixing dough, laminating dough, shaping dough. Later shifts mean everything else – cookies, cakes, cream puffs, macarons, and on and on.”

“A lot of what I do as the head baker is menu development and testing. For instance, we have a seasonal menu change coming up in a few weeks, so I’ve been testing all the spring pastries to make sure they’ll work when we start mass production. I also plan and test all of our holiday menus (we’re full-swing into Easter preparations now). Inevitably, a chunk of my time is always spent answering e-mails, most of which involve me directing people to our website, or informing them that no, we cannot make them a 2-tier cake covered in edible glitter by tomorrow morning.”

What’s the best part of the job?  “I work with great people. Our staff at Whisk is amazing, and I love getting to hang out with creative and talented people every day. I also really enjoy the development part of the job. I’ve been dreaming up recipe ideas since I was a kid, but now someone’s giving me a kitchen and a paycheck and saying, ‘yeah, sure, give that a whirl.’ That’s been a delight. And to be fair, sometimes the ideas turn out terrible, but everything’s a learning opportunity (and an opportunity to be mocked on Instagram).”

That said, dealing with people can also be the hardest part of the job.  “I am something of a hermit by nature, and I do often miss my early days of just showing up to work, making my croissants, and going home. There are a lot of perks of being a manager, but it’s also super hard some days, like when customers start complaining, or silly mistakes get made in the kitchen, or you have to address a behavioral issue with a staff member. Those are the hardest days.”

We asked Jackie what they would say to a high schooler interested in pursuing a career path similar to theirs.  “Work your butt off, and learn as much as you can, as fast as you can. This is not a glamorous job. It is long hours on your feet in hot kitchens doing the same thing over and over and over again. You have to love it – really, really love it. But hard work and efficiency are prized qualities, and when you have zero experience they are the things that are going to score you points.  If you’re willing to start at the bottom and do some grunt work (I have peeled a lot of apples in my life), you can learn so much just by watching other people. And then (when you’ve proven your worth as an apple peeler), you ask to learn some more. I’ve never had a boss be like, ‘No, I won’t teach you that.’ And the last thing I’d say is know when to move on. If you feel like you’ve reached the limit of what you can learn somewhere, it’s okay to find something new.”

Speaking of finding something new to learn, Jackie has also been taking ice skating lessons with a friend, and reports they are very close to advancing to Basic Level 4 and successfully completing a two-foot turn.  Impressive!  We look forward to seeing them at Alumni Showcase and wish them the best luck in the kitchen, on the ice, and in all other things as well.

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