Jen Demarest is pastry chef and, with her husband Nick, owner of Harvest Moon Café in Sonoma.
Did you always want to be a pastry chef?
Definitely since high school. I grew up in a small town in New York state, Clinton Corners, and was in 4H since I was 10. My leader was a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, so we did lots of baking.
What was your favorite then?
My mother’s cheesecake. In high school I started doing specialty cakes and really enjoyed that.
What is your professional training?
After high school I lived at home and completed the 18 month Culinary Arts program at the CIA. Then I enrolled for another 18 months in the Baking and Pastry program.
First professional job?
In an organic, biodynamic bakery in upstate NY. We baked for the Green Market in NYC.
Why did you come west?
I had met Nick at the CIA. He got a job at Chez Panisse, and I got one at Le Toque in Rutherford.
When did you open Harvest Moon?
Eleven years ago this month.
Bakers keep early hours.
Well, because it’s for the restaurant, I don’t come in until 7am, except on Farmers Market day, when I start at 5. The bread baked off today was started yesterday. Bakers are planners – we’re always a step ahead.
What are your favorite things to bake?
Lately I’ve really been enjoying making laminated doughs – something new since I started having a stand at the Friday morning market. They are challenging, and fun to play with.
And I’ve really enjoyed making special cakes for my daughter Annabelle’s birthdays – ten of them. For her eighth party at Go-Cart racing, the cake was a figure-8 track, with black and white checkerboard sides, and fondant cars. I made one for her good friend Noah who was into Greek mythology, with 3-tiered columns and gold leaves. One child said “Don’t cut it!”
It must be challenging being a mother.
The baking and owner job is basically a 24-hour job. The restaurant has been part of our daughter’s life since she was born.
So why did you take on being a volunteer firefighter?
I really do like helping people. It was a big training commitment, and I have to keep up the training. It’s a good example for Annabelle, that I take time to do things for others.
The hardest part is that when you go to a fire, you don’t know long it will be. I can’t always answer the call. I’ve worked on wildfires, and on two house fires.
My dad was a paid firefighter, and my two brothers are firefighters too, in North Carolina.
Any thoughts or dreams for the future?
Not much time for dreaming of other things now. It’s a very good life.