Pastry Chef Kir Jensen of The Sugar Cube

Pastry Chef Kir Jensen of The Sugar Cube
November 2011

Kir Jensen is like a one-woman band. It’s against all odds that she turns out restaurant-worthy desserts on gorgeous vintage plateware with one assistant from adorable Lilliputian food cart, The Sugar Cube. Originally from Chicago, Jensen is a first generation American born from two European parents, so her diet growing up was far from the Wonderbread sandwich variety. She first studied pastry at The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. During her time there she scored a stage at the prestigious Trio in Evanston. Shortly after, a pastry cook position opened up and her career took off. She worked under the influential young pastry chef Della Gossett (who eventually became the pastry chef at Charlie Trotter’s and mentored many a fledgling pastry cook).
Gossett’s sensibility and approach helped shape Jensen’s pastry. Strong technique and inventive flavor combinations meant that Gossett’s desserts were creative and thoughtful, but still well-balanced. Jensen took that lesson to heart, creating a simpler version of an approach that focused on highlighting seasonal ingredients. After moving to Portland, Jensen worked at Genoa, Clarklewis, and Florio Bakery. In 2008 she struck out on her own, purchasing an 8 x 14-foot food cart. Since opening The Sugar Cube, Jensen has been featured in The New York Times, LA Times, and Travel & Leisure. She has a cookbook in the works that is set to be released in spring 2012 by Chronicle Books. In 2011 she won the Portland Rising Star Pastry Chef award.

Interview with Portland Rising Star Pastry Chef Kir Jensen of The Sugar Cube - Portland, OR

Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to become a chef?
Kir Jenson: Growing up with immigrant parents. My mom is from Switzerland, and my dad is a butcher from Denmark. I was exposed to all different kinds of food. My mom cooked dinner every night, and there was always something baking in the oven. Cooking and baking for others is where I feel most at home, and I love to share some sugar love.

AB: How did you begin cooking?
KJ: During culinary school, I landed my first baking job at a really wonderful restaurant called Trio, located outside of Chicago. To this day that experience has been formidable in my culinary career. It was such a special place, and I was exposed to the best of the best, food-wise as well as peers. From there I moved on to the Ritz Carlton in downtown Chicago. I eventually made my way to Portland, and I've been here for the last 10 years. I've been super fortunate to work alongside some really talented chefs and bakers, Genoa, Noble Rot, Florio Bakery, and Criollo Bakery just to name a few. For the last three years I've been working for myself. In 2008, I decided to start a food cart, specializing in all things sweet. I bake everything in my 8 x 14 cart. Every day is a challenge, but one that I welcome. And it has made me a better chef.

AB: What advice to you offer aspiring chefs?
KJ: Learn from the best and from someone who inspires you. Keep your mouth shut and your head down and absorb as much as you possibly can. Accept every day as a new challenge and kick some ass. Don't be afraid to take some giant leaps to help push yourself in the direction you want to go.

AB: What is your food philosophy?
KJ: Never stop learning and challenging yourself, stay humble, and remember where you started from. Most importantly, ALWAYS put the love in your food. XO!

AB: What are your top three tips for pastry success?
KJ: I feel like the number one is sourcing the best ingredients. Quality's got to be there in order to build something. I'm lucky to live in a place with artisan chocolate, beer, and coffee. Also, working cleanly and efficiently is very important.