Jenni Field on being Fearless in the Kitchen

Whipping up the courage to change professions mid-stream in life is difficult, but that’s the challenge Jenni Field took on. After some time passed, she decided once again that an evolution needed to take place, and combined her two passions. Cooking and teaching.

While I enjoyed working in the restaurants, it was not my passion, and I’ve found it through my blogging and making videos–in teaching folks to be fearless in the kitchen.

Jenni Both of MeAlthough Jenni and I have known each other for a few years through social media,  I felt it was important to first chat on the phone, put a voice to the face and get a feel for the real Jenni Field before writing the article.

I found her to be genuine, witty, quick in conversing and just as engaging on the phone as she is on the social media platform. Part of Jenni’s charm is her effervescence both in her postings and on video, and it carried over deliciously in conversation. Below is our follow-up Q & A.

Q – Karie:  Inspiration: What or who was your inspiration for your choice of career and for who you are today? 

A – Jenni: I’ve always been a bit of a nonconformist, and after working for 16 years as a special educator, I really needed to walk away due to burnout and some health reasons. I felt I needed to legitimize a career change at 40, so I went to culinary school and then went on to work in fine dining restaurants as a pastry cook, then pastry sous chef and pastry chef. I wish I could point to one specific person who has inspired me on my path, but honestly, I began blogging because I missed teaching. While I enjoyed working in the restaurants, it was not my passion, and I’ve found it through my blogging and making videos–in teaching folks to be fearless in the kitchen. It’s my goal to educate and entertain, to share information that can help people find their kitchen confidence and begin to relax and play in the kitchen. I feel like I’m making my career up as I go along, and that’s both liberating and a bit scary. I try to trust my intuition though as I’ve found that my best ideas seem to be the ones that come to me spontaneously and that I act on before giving myself a chance to talk myself out of them!

Q – Karie: You mentioned you are beginning to work with smaller brands in partnership building. Which of the larger brands do you really want to work with? 

A – Jenni: I would love to work with some of the brands I naturally gravitate toward and use anyway. King Arthur Flour comes to mind as well as White Lily, which is a Southern brand and is, as far as I’m concerned, the hands-down choice for making biscuits! I have a project going that uses the Heritage Bundt Swirl Pan from NordicWare, and I would love to do some more recipe development for them. My number one, top of the list, dream brand to work with is KitchenAid. My mom had a KitchenAid when I was a kid, so I come from a KitchenAid family and use mine religiously.

Q – Karie:  Cook the Book… a short description of your “moment of brilliance” and ultimately, where both you and Denise would like to take this dazzling project.

Jenni and DeniseA – Jenni: My best ideas seem to come almost like a bolt from the blue and are the ones I don’t analyze too much before acting, lest I talk myself out of them! Nancie McDermott had sent both Denise and I signed copies of her latest cookbook, Southern Soups & Stews, and when I saw that Denise had posted a photo of her copy on her Facebook page, I immediately commented that we should cook together. (This is the Facebook thread that started it all in September of last year: Denise Vivaldo – The best present came in the mail !! I… | Facebook) Then we switched to Facebook messenger to discuss how to do it. Denise came up with the name and I suggested we enlist Dennis Littley’s   help with the tech side to stream the show on blab. Originally, we hadn’t considered having the cookbook author on the show, until we decided it would be silly not to have Nancie on since we were cooking from her book and she only lives about an hour from me. So I invited her to come down, and the rest is history! Our first show was on November 7 of last year, and we haven’t looked back. We’ve got authors lined up into next year!

Cook the BookRight now, we are doing each show “just for fun,” because it is great fun to do, and we love promoting cookbooks and cookbook authors and facilitating connection between the authors and their fans. We really do love it and have a ball cooking and laughing together! We also would like to find a way to monetize Cook the Book, most probably by having relevant brands sponsor either the entire show or specific episodes. In order to do that, we really need to increase the fan base for the show. I know that we have created something really unique and special, but it’s important that we increase the number of viewers and fans to make us an attractive investment for brands. Right now, we are loving the “bootleg” feeling of live-streaming where literally anything can happen, but who knows what opportunities will present themselves in the future? We’re excited to give cookbook authors a new platform, so we’ll see what happens next!

Q – Karie:  Can you give the readers a bit of background on yourself? 

A – Jenni:  I didn’t grow up cooking or baking. My mom was a pretty good cook and baker, and she had a stable of recipes that she made in rotation–some for everyday meals and a standout few for dinner parties (individual beef Wellingtons, curried shrimp, Chocolate Charlotte Russe for dessert, etc). She even got into baking breads at some point. Looking back, I am not sure that she was ever completely comfortable in the kitchen, and I base that on the fact that I never really got to help her cook or bake. So I just watched. To me, cooking was a spectator activity. After college, I realized I needed to eat, and that meant learning to do more than just cook rice! I joined a cookbook club and cooked from recipes religiously–I wasn’t able to deviate even a little bit from what was written on the page. After several years of cooking like this, just through reading cookbooks like they were textbooks and watching cooking shows on PBS, I began to understand the rules behind the recipes. Eventually I got to the point of being able to make variations based on my knowledge of ingredient function and mixing method. That’s when cooking and baking became fun rather than a necessary activity that I would get really anxious about. I found that having a sound repertoire of foundational skills allowed me the freedom to cook and bake more intuitively (within the limits of science and ratios and such). Going to culinary school really reinforced how important those fundamental skills are as we spent a lot of time making classics and learning the basics. Going beyond the basics of culinary school came with practice and from working in a professional kitchen, and I realized that I already knew the vast majority of basics that were being taught. So now that’s what I try to do with my site: help people be “Fearless in the Kitchen” through teaching solid background. The whys and hows behind the whats, if you will.

Q – Karie:  You find selling yourself to be your biggest challenge, yet your social media presence is mighty. You engage your audience, you’re friendly and extremely likable. Which area do you feel  needs improvement? 

A – Jenni: I think the most difficult thing with social media these days is in reaching enough of my fans for something to reach “critical mass.” With any social media, only a certain percentage of our fans/followers will actually see our posts, partly because nobody expects 100% of their fans to be online and looking at a particular platform at exactly the same time we post to it, but also because a lot of these platforms, and particularly Facebook, are using an algorithm that further restricts which fans see what. For myself, I need to figure out how to post things that my fans and followers will want to share/retweet/what have you without having to always ask for it. It can be tough. I love engaging with my followers in real time and answering questions when I can, but the trick then becomes figuring out how to get my message to them when they aren’t online. How I can get my posts to reach the maximum number of eyes over time.

I know you’re curious and want to more about both, Jenni and Denise ~ follow the links below:

Jenni Field’s Pastry Chef Online and Denise Vivaldo – Culinary Consultant

Ask Chef Dennis

Be sure and catch Jenni and Denise on the next episode of Cook the Book with Denise and Jenni, featuring Stephanie L Tyson and Vivian Joiner, link below, live Sunday April 17th, 4 pm Eastern. Keep you eyes on the prize and watch the countdown!

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