Chef uses common-sense approach to food

“I have always cooked. My first four layer cake I baked at 9 years old.”

In the morning her kitchen is filled with the aromas of whatever she is baking and cooking that day—some days it smells of sweet breads, pastries or cakes; other days like vegetables roasting. There is always good coffee waiting.

On her countertop there is always some tasty treat waiting to be eaten. In the winter months, chocolate, peppermint and cinnamon take over as she prepares a vast array of holiday goodies for friends, family and the public servants in her life. It is her way of saying thank you.

She moves in the kitchen with a grace that speaks of experience. Watching her hands move you realize they know what to do. She sometimes makes eye contact to explain a technique but those hands are still working, never missing a step.

When Jacquelyn Hopkins talks about cooking or baking, she lights up. She has a knack for telling if any recipe is worth trying—and if it isn’t she can improve it within a few minutes. She also has an uncanny ability for doing different types of conversions: She can double or triple a recipe within a few minutes.

Her ideas are innovative, simple and based on two concepts: less is more, and use common sense. The most looming task one can imagine in the kitchen can be made simple by her. She is a natural teacher and enjoys sharing her wisdom, ideas and her kitchen hacks.

Hopkins started off in Norfolk, Virginia as a psychiatric nursing student. Eventually she would wind up in culinary school, but before that happened she traveled to many different states, including Minnesota and Maine. She even opened a specialty bakery and deli on the coast of Maine for a couple of years before she went to culinary school. Hopkins has worked in many 5-star kitchens all over the United States, including the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia where she was a pastry chef.

After deciding that nursing wasn’t the job for her and closing down her specialty shop, she finally pursed a degree in culinary arts. She was a student at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, where she earned a degree in baking and pastry arts.

Eventually she and her husband found themselves in New Mexico. Before she retired she worked at Prairie Star at the Santa Ana Pueblo, and she was the pastry chef at Sandia Casino the year it opened. From there she made her way to Santa Fe and worked at a hotel just off the plaza. After working in food professionally for 15 years she retired.

Since then, Hopkins has done more traveling, doing consultations for kitchens around the United States including Charleston, South Carolina which she says has an impressive food scene.

In New Mexico she did consultations for the bakery and deli at the Triangle Grocery in Cedar Crest. When consulting, she offers up ways to develop recipes, physical planning, teaching, food preparation, technique, food waste, money management, clever ways to use product and get the most out of them, and innovation for new products.

At the Triangle Grocery, her ideas brought in a whole new element the bakery didn’t have before. Anyone who has been to the Triangle Grocery in the past five years and has checked out the bakery has seen her ideas sitting in the case without knowing it. Her ideas have also improved the baking aisle. In fact, her friendship with Triangle’s owner Rita Liebling inspired her to move to Cedar Crest.

Many people have inspired Hopkins over the years, including Julia Child, Nick Malgieri, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and John Sedlar. Even though so many greats have inspired her to cook and bake things that most people think only a specialty bakery or a 5-star restaurant can offer, her kitchen is small and quirky.

There is not loads of fancy equipment and she has a basic stove. She cooks in a regular kitchen just like anyone else. Her technique and knowledge is what sets her work apart from others.

Her simple kitchen compliments her kitchen philosophy, “less is more.” Hopkins is still pursing her interests in kitchen. Her latest endeavor will be writing a column for The Independent called Cook Like a Pro!, which will run twice a month, with expanded recipe offerings online.

Comments or questions for the column can be sent to editor@edgewood.news or by calling 286-1212.

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