Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Wang.
Jessica, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
My story, like most life stories, is rather non-linear. I was always into food, nature, and all things handmade from a very young age. My Chinese parents came to the USA by way of Taiwan, and started their family life in Texas, then moved to Southern California for work in 1990. My mom encouraged creative activities and homeschooled my brothers and me for a good portion of our upbringing in the San Gabriel Valley. I learned how to be a productive homebody and tree climber during that time.
In high school, I got into baking and candle making and playing with words. My closest friends and I started an entrepreneurial creative collective called La Tugwa. I went to an international school overseas in Chiang Mai, Thailand, so I was surrounded and influenced by many cultures. I was interested in culinary school but that was discouraged by my “guidance counselor” so I graduated high school super confused, and ended up in community college at Pasadena City College where art saved my life. I ended up getting a degree in fine art at the Maryland Institute College of Art with the intention of making a career as an art instructor for children.
Of course, I could not stay away from the kitchen dream for long! As a part-time gallery assistant and part-time interior design office assistant while also teaching art [lessons] and taking care of my grandma two days a week, I set up a pastry apprenticeship at a tiny restaurant called Forage and two months later, I decided to quit one of my jobs to pursue a career in the pastry kitchen. After three years in restaurant pastry kitchens, I moved to San Francisco for my dream job at State Bird Provisions as Chef Nicole Krazinsky and Chef Mikiko Yui’s first pastry assistant. Near the end of my first year there I was diagnosed with prediabetes, and my world started melting.
I couldn’t look at sugar and the lifestyle of a cook or chef working in a busy environment in the same way anymore. I didn’t see how it could be sustainable for myself or for anyone else I saw in the industry. I decided to forge a path away from the pastry career I was almost five years into and return to LA to figure it out. It took a period of deep searching and lifestyle changes to get to a healthier place physically and emotionally. With the help of some of my dearest and truest friends, I opened my mind to trying other food jobs, like recipe testing and styling, cooking in the savory kitchen, and private chef work. I would like to express my deep gratitude to Rachel Khong, Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer, and Sonoko Sakai for inviting me into their worlds.
During that first year back in LA, I began volunteering with the Asian Pacific Islander Forward Movement, a non-profit that ran Food Roots, a CSA program I was subscribed to. They asked if I could help teach healthy cooking workshops, so we did one on pickling and it went really well. In the following two years, I came to realize that I truly enjoy teaching cooking and pickling, the more I did it, and eventually, that realization grew into a business concept for Picklé Pickle Co., my educational fermentation workshop.
Can you give our readers some background on your art?
My work is about creating environments for healthy communities (from the micro to macro-level) and a big part of that is the transformation of resources for maximizing delight and health. I create immersive learning experiences to share the joy of fermentation, covering practical skills and creative perspectives for wellness through the inclusion of fermented foods in one’s diet. It comes down to the reality of our mortality as beings on this planet, and the realization that we can enjoy so much more while we’re here together if we engage in symbiotic relationships with healthy bacteria. My hope is to spread awareness of this message.
What responsibility, if any, do you think artists have to use their art to help alleviate problems faced by others? Has your art been affected by issues you’re concerned about?
I think the role of artists at the core remains the same throughout time, no matter what is happening out there. We create work to express perspectives in reaction to or anticipation of life events and issues, whether they are personal, local, national, or international. My art is extremely personal, but extremely public at the same time. Because my work is essentially about self-care and how to extend that care to others, I see it remaining a constant endeavor in the world we live in, no matter what is going on. Life might be faster-paced than it’s ever been, which correlates with the demand on us to restore ourselves in between activities.
What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
A good place to start is www.picklepickle.co, where upcoming workshops and events are listed. Sign up for a workshop, invite a friend or family member! Share your joy of fermentation!
Main photo: Nora Beckman
Picture of Jessica and her mom: Jon Chu