Growing up in a very small town in northern British Columbia, Canada, baking and cooking have always been a big part of my family`s life. I was determined to do something with my life but at the time, I wasn't sure in what direction that would take me.
Eventually at university, I decided to study child development and art therapy where one of my professors suggested I work in developmental research at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. While in my fourth year of university I was scouted to become a model. It was then that I started my modeling career in Los Angeles shooting beauty campaigns and television commercials. Within a few years I began traveling to Asia, South Africa, and Europe working for brands such as L’Oréal, Maybelline, Dior and Louboutin. Fortunately, traveling exposed me to many different and cultures and cuisines.
Traveling abroad alone and modeling could be stressful, and I was insecure and unsure whether I belonged in the industry. Baking was a creative outlet that I found calming and comforting. Wherever I was, no matter the location or availability of kitchen utensils, I would find ways to cook and bake. Whether it was in small spaces or limited facilities I found a way to be creative by using such unconventional methods such as toaster ovens and microwaves (which I successfully made macarons in!).
When I moved to Paris, I had no oven in my apartment so I signed up for cooking classes to I could ensure that I would have access to proper equipment. My first classes were with an older Italian lady. We would meet every Sunday morning; she would take me to the farmer`s markets and show me how to pick the best fruits, vegetables and cheeses. We would spend the afternoons baking sourdough breads, making fresh pastas and risottos and of course desserts like blancmange and tiramisu. I loved cooking and especially baking and would take as many classes as I could: croissant making, macarons, vegan cooking classes, even Thai food. I loved learning to make French desserts the most because they were so intricate and beautiful. I Found my comfort zone in the kitchen.
In 2016, I began working on my Patisserie Diploma at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. I was still working as a model at the time and often would go to castings between cooking classes.
Models and designers began hiring me to make cakes and macarons for weddings, art galleries and events. I didn’t always know how to make what was requested but I always said yes and would figure it out (even if that meant having burnt fingers for two months after my first croquembouche). I made friends easily and someone was always there to assist me. Coffee shops would lend me their kitchens if I didn’t have one and I had friends who would run to grab ingredients for me if I was out of town or short on time. I am grateful for these friends, and for all the help they offered!
In 2018, I was asked to help start up a restaurant in Marbella, Spain called Rosas. Ana, the owner of the cafe, had shared an apartment with me in Cape Town and experienced my baking years before I started culinary school. It was a bit intimidating to work as head chef of patisserie and I was unsure if I was ready to leave my career as a model, so we agreed on a short-term contract where I helped launch the restaurant, set up the kitchen, draft the menu and help train the staff.
During the Fall, after Rosas opened, I began offering macaron-making classes to tourists out of my apartment in Paris. This was both fun and challenging. I had to pay close attention to help my students catch any mistakes and ensure that everyone would walk away from the class happy and with perfectly made macarons.
This past year my modeling career has taken me to New York City where I currently reside. My goal this next year is to find to find a proper kitchen to work in! I am currently developing my buttercream work and love how realistic the flowers look on a cake made with something so delicate. The color palate and the intricate flavors that are incorporated make me I feel like the possibilities are endless.
Q1: You didn’t start sharing your pastry work on Instagram until you graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Paris in 2016. Were you baking much before this time? What inspired you to start posting your pastry work and how did you get into making those beautifully detailed buttercream flowers we’ve seen a lot of recently?
A: I actually started my diploma end of 2016. It was something completely new for me. I was baking all the time (muffins, cookies, pies) I never posted what I made because I didn’t think it would be that interesting to anyone.
When I was asked to work for Rosas, I wanted to make something really beautiful to match the interior of the restaurant (which was covered in roses) I started researching different techniques and just felt like it was so fitting. I started learning to make them about 2 weeks before I moved to Marbella. I guess I have always loved to create art and this method really resonated with me, so I picked it up right away.
Q2: You worked as the head chef for Rosas during its start-up phases in Spain, was that your first time working in a restaurant environment? What was that like and how did it differ from the type of work you typically pursue?
A: This was my first experience in the restaurant industry. It wasn’t something I ever planned on doing (working in a restaurant). Most of my classmates at that time were starting internships honestly that’s what I had wanted to do, and I would still really love to do because though I learned a lot in this experience, I would have liked to learn from working for other chefs. I guess I love a good challenge/adventure and I felt so honored that they believed in me so much, so I decided to try it.
The experience really pushed me to be creative and try new things. I worked with chefs that had worked many years in the industry and there was a bit of a language barrier, but we worked around that. I’m so grateful for that opportunity.
Q3: When baking for an event, what’s your typical process like from client interaction to delivering a finished product? Have you ever hit any roadblocks when developing or creating something for an event? How did you overcome it/them?
A: A lot of my clients find me through my fashion network and tend to give me a lot of freedom when designing cakes for them. Often, I will ask for their flavor preferences and we go from there. The odd time I have had someone sketch out what they wanted me to make that was a bit complicated however I would just research ways to make it work.
The first wedding that I created cakes for I took a 3-hour train ride carrying 400 macarons, madeleines and a 6-layer cake on my own. (Though I had help bringing all the boxes onto the train) the day was very hot and my cake completely shifted. I made the mistake of putting the cake into the fridge instead of inspecting it first. When I did finally see it, I panicked for a moment and put the cake back together in time for the wedding.
Q4: We see a lot of delicious madeleines, macarons, cakes, and tarts on your Instagram. Do you have a guilty pleasure, both savory and pastry? What’s your favorite pastry to create, and why? What’s one ingredient you can always find in your kitchen? What’s an unusual combination of ingredients that work surprisingly well together for you?
A: I love croissants and fresh bread with butter. I could probably eat that daily (and sometimes I do) on the sweet side I love pistachio financiers I found this amazing shop in a city just outside of Paris I would literally miss my returning train home consistently because i just had to go get one.
My favorite pastry to create would be fruit tarts. In French baking there are so many variations and layers in a tarte opposed to a American pie (which come to think of it would also be a guilty pleasure).
I have a couple ingredients I always have on me. I got into making macarons a couple years ago and once I started making them my friends would always request them. My top ingredients I always have on me are passion fruit puree, pistachio puree, coffee extract, vanilla bean, rose gel and a good dark chocolate and white chocolate. I am really picky with my ingredients and I use to fly with the ones I liked. I would buy those travel shampoo bottles and fill them just in case I couldn’t find them at my next destination. I also always fly with a cake ring, a tarte ring and a basic 8-inch piping tip.
I don’t consider any ingredient I use to be particularly unusual. I’ve been focused on well-executed flavor profiles and aesthetic details more so than seeking out exotic ingredients just for the sake of it.
Q5: You seemed to have successfully meshed modeling with your pastry career. Do you ever feel like one or the other is taking up most of your time? What do you have planned for your future and where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A: Well this year was maybe more difficult I was traveling a-lot and I mainly focused on modelling the first couple months in New York. My goal for this year is to find a bigger kitchen I can work in on my off time and I would really love to try working in a restaurant again but not as a head chef because I want to work around someone who has more experience than me. I feel like I still have a lot to learn and really want to be my absolute best.
In a few years I would like to mainly focus on my Pastry Career. I am not 100 percent sure what that looks like I just know that this is what I am most passionate about. Maybe I will one day open a shop I also really love teaching classes especially to kids so I think I could go in either direction.
If you're interested in learning more about chef Janelle Manning you can visit her on Instagram @janelle_manning to get a glimpse of her life.
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