Working as a bed and breakfast chef might seem like your job is defined by your title, but in the case of Jessica, chef at the Tucker House Inn & Harrison House Suites, the position involves so much more.
With a curiosity about what her job entails, and how much work she puts in for us every day, I sat down with Jessica and asked…
In the summer, what does an average day look like?
Long. I arrive at work around 7 a.m. to prepare breakfast, which is a different hot meal every day. When we are fully booked, we serve about 50 guests each morning. I start on yogurt preparation to make sure we have enough for the next morning. All of our yogurt is house made and a time-consuming process. Then the first several hours are dedicated to the breakfast service. After I’ve gotten the deliveries and cafe breakfasts finished, (around 9 a.m.) and the kitchen is cleaned, I start on my prep list.
At the top are catering projects, followed by breads and desserts for Coho Restaurant. If there’s a catering event that day, I’ll manage my time in terms of what needs to be ready first. I might do the personal and table flower arrangements for weddings, so I fit that in as well. Then I work on prepping for the next day’s breakfast. I also make sure to keep the freezer stocked with cookie dough, to-go pastries, “pupcakes,” gluten and or dairy-free scones, and puff pastry dough. In the summer I have lots of production projects involving all the farm fresh produce we are getting. So, my evenings might be spent pitting cherries or juicing citrus. I freeze and can a lot of it to use throughout the winter as well.
Do you always prepare breakfast the day before?
It really depends on what breakfast is going to be and how many people I am cooking for.
If I’m going to make something easy like a frittata, then not usually, maybe just a bit of mise en place, like dicing veggies. However, if I’m making something that takes a bit more lead time–like, say, biscuits–I will mix those up the night before and put them in the freezer to give me a jump on things in the morning. Or if I’m making a shakshuka, I’ll make the sauce the night before so I only have to worry about the assembly, baking, and the accompanying side in the morning.
How do you decide what you’ll be making for breakfast each morning?
First I’ll look at dietary restrictions. If there’s a lot of one kind, like gluten-free, then I will make a gluten-free meal that all guests can enjoy, such as polenta. I also look at what produce we have. Right now, we have a lot of fresh asparagus and cherries from Skagit Valley, so I try to incorporate them into the menu several times a week. I also try to ensure the menu has variety from day to day. The majority of our breakfasts are savory and lean towards being more “brunch-y.” In the summer, I try to base the menu on the weather, like not making a heavy breakfasts when it’s real warm and guests prefer meals that are light and fresh.
How many farms do we get produce from?
Well that’s a tricky one. The Food Hub in Skagit Valley offers lots of produce from farms that deliver to their centralized warehouse. There is a local company that delivers it to the Inn for us. From the San Juan Island, we are able to get organic chicken eggs from one of my co-workers, Elsa, and duck eggs from a neighbor. Much of our deliveries are shared with Coho Restaurant. Bernie from Mad Hatcher Farms delivers fresh eggs every Friday when Elsa’s hens can’t keep up with the Inns’s summer demands. Bernie also delivers fresh whole chickens that I incorporate into breakfast and use for catering. During the summer he is also kind enough to bring us produce from some of his fellow Eastern Washington farmers, things like tomatoes and corn that love the heat and drier climate over there.
Maria is our fruit lady. Her orchard is located in Orondo, Washington. She brings us stone fruit, and at the end of the season apples, pears, and walnuts. I end up freezing a good deal of her produce. Plus, I use her dried fruit for holiday fruit cakes. I also tend my own garden behind the Tucker House throughout the summer. Guests might find radishes, peas, carrots, onions, chives, lettuce, peppers, strawberries, rhubarb, and tomatoes from our patch on their breakfast plates.
How many different things do you cook in a normal day?
Well there aren’t really any normal days, especially in the summer because of all the catering. We do breakfast for our inn guests every day of course, but then after that I could be building and decorating wedding cakes, doing breakfast prep, baking bread for Coho Restaurant or specialty artisan bread for weddings, making appetizers, BBQ food, and even homemade dessert s’mores where I make the graham crackers and marshmallows myself. Sometimes we have up to three catering events in a day – a breakfast catering, lunch drop, and an evening wedding.
For many events we share the work load with Coho Restaurant. Ryan and Tim usually do the majority of the heavy lifting in terms of the entrees, but I do all of the desserts and the many of the appetizers and sides. On a busy day in the summer I could easily be making 25 different things, it just depends.
What is your favorite thing to cook?
In terms of breakfast, I like to cook more savory foods such as Asian rice bowls, or Mexican dishes such as sopes or chilaquiles, especially once we start getting all of this amazing, fresh and colorful produce.
In terms of baking, I love the way that my pies turn out, but I thoroughly dislike how monotonous making the crust is. Especially if it’s for a wedding pie bar and we’re cranking out 15 pies. Puff pastry is the same. It’s time consuming — a multi-day process of folding butter into the dough and refrigerating. But it look really impressive after it’s been baked and you can see all those nice crispy golden brown layers! I also like making artisan breads. Our catering customers often opt for “chef’s choice” on side items like bread and I then have the flexibility to add herbs, roasted garlic, seeds, fruit, or spices.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The variety. My job as a bed and breakfast chef for the Tucker House Inn, Harrison House Suites, and Coho Restaurant never gets boring. I don’t feel it’s overly repetitive as if I worked in a restaurant where I would make the same dishes every day. I feel so lucky that I can garden, cook breakfast, manage inventory, bake, make flower arrangements, can, and preserve.
We are very fortunate to have Jessica as our bed and breakfast chef, and partake her many talents. Don’t forget that when you stay with us your breakfast is complimentary. We can’t wait for you to taste her thoughtful dishes and experience the love she incorporates into everything she does.