The Sweet Escape
August 18, 2014
Life has been anything but cookie-cutter for Vancouver graphic designer and pâtissière Jackie Kai Ellis
At an age when most kids are waiting for the light bulb to heat up their Easy-Bake Ovens, Jackie Kai Ellis was making layer cakes.
By seven years old, she’d long since graduated from the basics, having taught herself to bake from the children’s cookbooks she ordered from her school’s book fair. “Chinese families don’t eat sweets,” she explains. “My grandma wasn’t standing over me teaching me how to bake. It was just me and a cookbook.”
Now a graphic designer-turned-bakery owner, Ellis remembers crafting a multi-layered carrot cake and serving it to bewildered houseguests for dessert. “They were like, ‘How on earth did you make a layer cake?’ It was one of those moments where you think, ‘Oh, I guess I’m doing something extraordinary.’ As a kid, you think everything you do is normal.”
“Normal” is hardly the word to describe Ellis, who eventually put baking on the back burner to study fine arts at OCAD, then graphic design and illustration at Capilano University. She worked mainly in Vancouver real estate marketing as a graphic designer for nine years, five of which were with her own firm, Ellis Design.
After becoming well known in the industry for her real estate work, Ellis was fearful of being pigeonholed. She found time in her off-hours to return to baking and, before long, she was selling her goods at the local farmers’ market. “I got such a great connection to the end user,” she explains. “As a designer, you don’t always get that.”
Ellis soon shuttered her design shop to answer the siren call of crumbling croissants and crackling macarons. “I realized that you can’t have everything in life, but you can have anything you want. I was saving for a house I didn’t want, kids I wasn’t ready for — a life I’d decided on when I was 22. I wanted to experience life and travel.”
After bucket-listing her way around the world and studying pastry making in Paris, Ellis opened Beaucoup Bakery in Vancouver in late 2012, serving classic French pastries — some, like her yuzu lemon tart, with a modern twist. With its thoughtful typography and clean aesthetic, her shop quickly and seamlessly fit into the city’s design district. “I realized how incredibly crucial branding was. The branding gets people in; the product makes them stay,” Ellis says.
A zeal for delivering the most authentic, best-tasting product is what made Ellis’s venture an instant success. She counts pain au chocolat among her favourite pastries, and, in an effort to have her customers experience how she felt eating the chocolate-stuffed sweet roll in Paris, Ellis tested 60 different dough recipes before settling on the perfect one. It’s that sense of duty that fuels her creative drive.
This year, Ellis launches The Paris Tours, a walking tour of the city’s best patisseries, as well as Recette, her own French-pastry cookbook app. She’s looking for space in Vancouver to open a baguette bakery, and is in the research and development stage for Bespoken, another company she’s created — this one for custom-designed women’s undergarments (“Why not?” she asks).
It’s a full plate, yes, but Ellis always manages to find time at home to bake, whether it’s to whip up an easy lemon loaf or develop a complicated new recipe for the bakery. “Baking is something that I love; it’s something I would do even if it failed,” she says. “It’s why people care about [Beaucoup]. They know it’s something that I’m passionate about, and passion is infectious.”
Career Shift profiles a creative professional who has left their industry to pursue another passion. Pick up the Jul/Aug 2014 issue of Applied Arts to see the print feature on Jackie Kai Ellis.
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