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Alumni Spotlight: Jenny McCoy

SCPS alumna Jenny McCoy is a pastry chef, cookbook author, instructor and consultant. (Photo by Tom Vangel)

Pastry chef Jenny McCoy’s (SCPS ’07) list of past employers reads like a veritable who’s who in the restaurant world. There’s Blackbird, Charlie Trotter’s and Gordon in Chicago, all three of Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans restaurants, and Marc Forgione, A Voce and Craft in New York City. With disarming modesty, however, McCoy claims she regularly burned Pillsbury slice-and-bake cookies growing up.

McCoy’s busy career as a pastry chef, instructor, cook book author and consultant began on a whim. “I had no previous inclination to be a chef, but I didn’t want to go to a regular college right after high school,” she recalls. Inspired by an aunt’s catering business, she enrolled in the culinary program at Chicago’s Kendall College and fell in love with baking. “I think I was drawn to the visuals of it,” she says. “Also, I was strong, resilient and young, so I could handle the crazy hours and 110-degree kitchens!”

Armed with focus and determination, McCoy landed a job at Gordon by cold-calling the pastry chef. She employed a similar strategy to secure her next position at Blackbird, and from there, she continued to rise in the fine dining industry. “I worked 18 hours during my audition for Charlie Trotter’s,” she remembers. By her early 20s, McCoy was working 80 hours per week. She loved the intensity of the kitchen, but she felt an urge to try other things, which led her to enrolling at DePaul.

The School of Continuing and Professional Studies offered McCoy an opportunity to further refine her interests, which at that time included Spanish education. “I did a lot of reflective writing exercises at SCPS, and they were all about food,” McCoy remembers. “My advisor said, ‘Are you sure Spanish education is what you want to do?’” With that gentle prodding, McCoy finally accepted that she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the food world.

McCoy’s food writing degree focused on creative, critical, technical and recipe writing. “I hated writing so much, and I’m not good at it, so that’s why I decided to run straight at it,” McCoy laughs. “That’s always how I’ve been.” Partway through the program, McCoy accepted an offer to run Emeril’s pastry kitchens, so she finished her degree online. In New Orleans, she continued to hone her writing skills by blogging regularly for Emeril’s website, and a few years later, McCoy successfully pitched a seasonal desserts cookbook to a publisher.

“That was my proudest moment,” McCoy says. “I’d been thinking about a cookbook for 14 years, and I got to put my degree to good use.” The book, titled “Jenny McCoy’s Desserts for Every Season,” showcases her baking philosophy: keep it simple and don’t overthink it. “I don’t care if you bake from a box—just make something,” she says. These days, McCoy inspires both recreational and professional bakers through her pastry classes at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, where she currently lives, as well as online through Craftsy. Plus, McCoy has another cookbook in the works. “Even when I was baking 12 hours a day in a restaurant, I could still come home and start baking something else,” she says. “I never grow tired of it!”

This article was republished from DePaul Magazine's 14 Under 40 feature. Click here to visit the magazine's website.