Jennifer Merryman – Small Batch Cookery

The Final Product: Small Batch

Like peanut butter is to jelly,
Like meatballs are to spaghetti,
Like French fries are to a cheeseburger,
I am to your kitchen.

Meet Jennifer (Jen) Merryman, writer of that poem, owner of Small Batch Cookery, holder of degrees in print making, French, and applied culinary science, and former intern to Thomas Keller the chef and restaurateur of Per Se and The French Laundry.

Picture a bubbly, charming woman who is so incredibly passionate about creating food – food that is art.  Picture mouth-watering, simply designed wedding cakes.  Or beautiful, bite-sized cupcakes.  How about just your mother’s cooking?

That gives you an idea about Small Batch, so named because Jen loves the aspect of tradition that separates Small Batch bourbon from every other bourbon.  That’s what Small Batch Cookery is to her – a continuation of the restaurant / baking tradition that started with her grandparents, continued to her parents, and now rests with her.

“I love something effortless. It tastes good, and you don’t necessarily put a lot of work into it, but it has a lot of heart.  That ambiance that is what Small Batch is about, creating something lovely.  I want people to remember what they taste and what they experience through Small Batch,” Jen told me.

The Ingredients for Small Batch

Jen’s background certainly primed her to open her own Cookery.  “All of my great memories have to do with food.  In fact one of my earliest memories is of my mother decorating a wedding cake at our kitchen table.”

The passion for food continued as Jen worked in restaurants to get herself through college.  When she graduated, she wanted to combine her love of art and food by becoming a food photographer.  But after considering it, she realized that she loves being in the kitchen and she loves creating things, so being behind the lens wouldn’t do it for her.

Culinary school was the answer.  “That’s how pastry came into the mix.  It’s like sculpture, but it’s edible.  I also have a minor in art history and so every painting I’ve ever loved, every sculpture I’ve loved has had to do with food.”

I had to grin at Jen’s enthusiasm when she told me, “That’s the amazing thing about a pastry… it looks beautiful, it smells beautiful… and then you can EAT it!”

Enrolling at Johnson & Wales in Charlotte, North Carolina was an easy decision.  But, as Jen put it, the cherry on the top would be landing an internship at the end of the program.  So on her first day of culinary school, Jen crafted a handwritten letter to her ten favorite chefs.

It may sound familiar:

“Like peanut butter is to jelly,
Like meatballs are to spaghetti,
Like French fries are to a cheeseburger,
I am to your kitchen…”

she wrote at the beginning of the letter.  Proof that handwritten letters still take the cake; she received call after call from her favorite chefs.

I asked her if she felt that writing this out-of-the-box letter was a risk.  She chuckled, and immediately had a food metaphor to explain her decision.  “That’s the amazing thing about the culinary industry – the people who run it are so unique and they have such amazing backgrounds.  They are so well-traveled, and very well read, why give them a Vanilla resume, a Vanilla cover letter, when you can give them a Rocky Road or Basil Strawberry?  Something that’s so unique!  I mean that’s the first impression that you make.  And so I thought, I’m going to go out on a limb here and do something that nobody’s ever read before.  And it worked.”

When Thomas Keller’s Chef de Cuisine, Dave Cruz, called her, that was it.  He loved the letter so much that he didn’t even ask Jen to come to California for an interview.  She was hired on the spot.  And at the end of her culinary program, Jen drove out to Napa to intern for four months at Thomas Keller’s restaurant, Ad Hoc.

One day, while Jen was prepping fruit to make a shortcake, Thomas strode into the kitchen.  An unusual occurrence, as the other interns had never seen him before.  He stood next to Jen, pulled out a cutting board, and began working alongside her.

“Nice blueberries, chef,” he said to her.  That’s when Jen knew she was onto something.  That she could do this.

The Recipe for Small Batch

Combine a creative mind, a family background in cooking and entrepreneurship, a transformative experience in the kitchen of an award-winning chef, and friends and family who promote your delicious pastries to everyone they know.  Whisk gently in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Add some egg-cellent experience catering holiday parties and holiday baking, and wait for your concoction to rise.

Just before it’s finished, whisk it to southern Maryland to allow it to reach its full potential.  Here, apply the icing, and let it set.

Jen worked full-time at a restaurant in Charlotte, but people had heard about her prestigious internship and began asking her to cater their events.  In fact, Small Batch began very organically, with a request here and there on the side.  Soon though, Jen was spending almost as much time working with her own customers as she did working at her job.  And that’s when she began thinking about truly turning her passion into a business.

This all came to fruition just as her husband got a job in southern Maryland.  Moving to a new place, especially a place that has Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. close by, seemed like the perfect opportunity to start her cookery.

Word of mouth, and free samples has helped Jen build her clientele in the new area.  “Getting my product and my style into people’s mouths and then having my product speak for itself.  Although usually a lot of people can’t speak because they’re stuffing their mouths with my cupcakes!”

The most important thing though, is staying true to herself.  “I love homemade cupcakes.  I love mason jars filled with homemade jam.  I love little small photographs that are old and show texture and light and I love something that has that handmade look but isn’t necessary crafty.  I just love seeing a person in objects.”

And that’s what Small Batch is about.  And what makes it so special.

Jen’s plans for Small Batch are nothing but small. In the future she hopes to be a triple threat: event planning, photography, and catering, to make your perfect moment linger in your mind forever, intertwined with the flavors, sights, and smells of the day.

____________________________________________________________________________

Jen’s Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

  • Don’t get a lot of people involved in your business to start.  Sometimes it’s just easier to follow your own bliss and your own advice than to listen to what other people have to say.  Once you’re more established then you can take opinions.
  • It’s really important to stay true to yourself and listen to your gut.
  • Don’t become enamored by money, and definitely don’t set your goals based on money for the first couple of years.
  • Don’t quit your full-time job until you have to.  It doesn’t make sense to jump off the deep end immediately and then not be able to keep a roof over your head.
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