Interview with her. magazine
Tessa speaks with the Japanese magazine about her cookbooks and career.
It’s my birthday later this week, so I wanted to share a little bit more about myself, how I got started in the baking and food media industry, what keeps me inspired to create and how that’s changed over the years.
her. magazine interviewed me back in 2019, and I am excited to republish the article for you to all enjoy.
This interview was taken from her. magazine vol. 09. The magazine can be found at Indigo in Canada and Barnes & Noble and Kinokuniya in the USA.
Mari Kishi: First of all can you tell me about yourself and what you do and why you do it?
Tessa Huff: My name is Tessa Huff, and I am a cookbook author, food photographer, and mother to two small children. I was born and raised in Northern California, but now call beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia “home.”
I grew up in the performing arts community and studied communications at the University of California, Davis. After training at a local bakery, I opened Sacramento’s first custom cake boutique where I catered to clients by making one-of-a-kind designs.
Before my husband and I decided to start a family, we moved to Vancouver and closed the doors to my bakery indefinitely. Missing my clients and feeling a bit lost in a new city, I began baking again from home and started a blog to share my work. The online food community was very receptive to my swirls of buttercream frosting and unique flavor pairings.
I also studied food photography to be able to document my work. My love for food styling and a growing readership helped land my first book deal with Abrams Books in 2014 where I developed and photographed each recipe myself. At the same time, I was pregnant with my son and knew I wanted a job where I could continue to work from home.
Since then, I wrote and photographed a second cookbook as well as gave birth to my daughter. For years I’ve been sharing my tips and tricks from working in a professional kitchen with home bakers online and in my books, but recently started teaching in-person cake and baking classes as well.
MK: Can you talk about your style of baking and what makes your work so unique? How do you push yourself to create something really spectacular and something that is you?
TH: My design style is fun but also focused and intentional. I enjoy pairing unique flavors together, like in my Passion Fruit Opera Cake or Pink Peppercorn Cherry Cake and updating old recipes with new ingredients. Admittedly, some of my designs require a bit of work, but I make a point of creating recipes that still taste great with or without the buttercream roses or braided pie lattice.
I truly love what I do. Most days you can still find me toying around with different ideas in the kitchen long after the kids have gone to bed. I feel that my work reflects this passion in an approachable, honest way. When it comes to design, I enjoy combining different textures and patterns. If I am ever stuck on a flavor, I turn to the seasons for inspiration or try giving a classic recipe a modern twist.
MK: Where do you source inspiration from on a regular basis?
TH: Give me a set of piping tips, a beautiful color palette of buttercream to work with, and a few spare hours to toy around in the kitchen and I’ll be the happiest human!
I used to find inspiration traveling – architecture, textiles, and flavors from around the world. Nowadays, I’m mostly at home with my children and my days spent exploring and seeking out inspiration are limited. They have, however, given me the biggest gift by reminding me to just “play.” After all, it’s just sugar and butter so even if you “mess up,” it will likely still taste delicious.
MK: In the late 2000s you had a cake shop called The Frosted Cake Shop, can you please talk about the shop and what you learnt the most from running the shop?
TH: The Frosted Cake Shop was a custom cake boutique specializing in one-of-a-kind cakes and desserts for weddings and events. It was a small operation that allowed me to create, travel, and make my own hours. I quickly learned that this meant baking cakes and frosting cupcakes past midnight every Friday in order to fulfill weekend orders.
Besides figuring out how to safely deliver 5-tier wedding cakes to unfamiliar venues, one of the biggest things I learned was how to juggle the responsibilities of being a business owner. One minute I’d be in a happy space piping buttercream details on a custom birthday cake and the next I’d be completing invoices, tackling a mountain of dishes, or checking inventory.
I still wear many hats today and learning to manage my time from the start has really helped. I spend just as much time creating in the kitchen as I do editing or returning emails before switching my brain back to mom-mode in time for preschool pickup.
MK: You have published two cookbooks, "Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes" and most recently “Icing on the Cake.“ Can you describe these books the best way possible without rewriting the book and how they represent you and your work?
TH: My first love is cake. I appreciate the science and precision when it comes to baking cake as well as the freedom to explore and decorate the exterior. My first business and book reflect this passion for cake. “Layered” is exclusively about layer cakes – from baking the cake layers to preparing fillings and frostings to decorating them with edible garnishes. Because there are so many different cakes in the book (60 different combinations with over 100 recipes), I had the chance to share some of my more nontraditional flavor combinations like in the London Fog Cake (Earl Grey buttercream with a salted caramel sauce) and the Raspberry Chocolate Stout Cake (with a pretzel chocolate bark topping).
Along the way, my baking repertoire expanded. I worked at a patisserie exclusively making French macarons, I began making seasonal pies, and I practiced new pastry techniques any chance I got. “Icing on the Cake” takes my love for baking and decorating beyond just cake. It is about all different types of celebration-worthy desserts and how to recreate them at home. In the book, I encourage readers to explore and play around with the different designs. Most of the recipes will still taste great without all of the extra flair, but if you get excited about testing your macaron making skills and devoting hours to piping gardens of butter flowers, then you will truly love this book. Of course, not all of the recipes are complicated, like the Coffee Cheesecake, Chocolate Banana Pie, or Peanut Butter Éclairs, but even the more advanced designs have plenty of tips and step-by-step photos to help guide bakers of all skill levels.
MK: How do you like writing? Please explain.
TH: Being an author is such an honor, and I am so grateful for an outlet to share my stories. It is still surreal to think about the thousands of books living in other people’s homes that contain my words and personal experiences. The goal has always been to educate and inspire others and for readers to learn from my years in a professional kitchen, find joy in the narratives, and become so excited and hungry by the recipes that they are immediately drawn into the kitchen.
Visual storytelling is a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to food, but so is the actual writing. Even after two cookbooks, it took me a long time to realize I was a writer. And while the storytelling portion of my blog is moving more towards a magazine-style recipe website, I know that I will keep up with my writing exercises because I’ve come to love it more than I ever realized I could.
MK: You are originally from Sacramento although relocated to Vancouver some years ago. May I ask what was behind the move and how did the move open doorways in your career?
TH: My husband and I both grew in up in the suburbs of Sacramento. We still adore Northern California, but we knew it wasn’t where we wanted to start our family. We visited Vancouver often and fell in love with the beautiful landscape of mountains, sea, and skyscrapers.
The move from Sacramento to Vancouver didn’t so much open doors but rather shut them (literally with the closing of my bakery). However, the move made me reevaluate what I wanted to do next and was more of a fresh start. I can do my current job from nearly anywhere, but it was the new city that energized and inspired me in a different way.
MK: Have you considered other realms of the food industry?
TH: As much as I enjoy baking and pastries, I love cooking savory meals at home too. I’ve never incorporated those recipes into my work at this point, but I’m open to it.
I enjoy working with my students a lot these days, so the idea of opening a studio where I could teach, host workshops, and create content for my website and clients sounds really appealing.
MK: What is on the horizon for you? What do you want to achieve going forward?
TH: I do creative consulting work and produce material for a variety of media and food brands so I am interested in continuing that part of my business. One exciting collaboration is with Lee’s Donuts, a Vancouver institution that is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. We are working together to develop a new recipe and are documenting the entire process.
I already have several new notebooks full of recipes.
Maybe another cookbook? Maybe a studio or teaching kitchen? Maybe both? I am excited to see where it all takes me.