By KATIE MOEN For Union County HAWK
WESTFIELD – Throughout the span of her 20-year career as a professional pastry chef, Uyen Kirshenbaum has studied in Paris, baked for some of the most famous high-end resorts in Las Vegas and left her mark up and down the west coast. She has earned Michelin stars, traveled the globe and worked with some of the most well-known chefs in the world. And now, after years of culinary adventures, her journey has led her to Westfield.
On Wednesday, Ms. Kirshenbaum and her husband, Jeffrey, celebrated the long-awaited grand opening of the Kirshenbaum Baking Co., located at 62 Elm Street in the heart of downtown Westfield.
“We looked around forever trying to find the right spot,” Ms. Kirshenbaum said. “We tried Morristown, Summit, Montclair…but I think in my heart I always knew I wanted Westfield. This is an incredible community where a lot of exciting things are happening, and we can’t wait to be a part of it.”
While the bakery eventually plans to offer a wide variety of pastries, treats, cakes, pies and delicacies, for now, the Kirshenbaum’s are keeping it simple.
“This whole idea started during the pandemic,” Ms. Kirshenbaum said, “I was home with my kids and we started making cookies to drop off to friends and family members that we couldn’t see in person. Everybody loved it. It was a way to connect and to let people know that we were thinking about them even when we couldn’t get together. Cookies might be little things, but what’s more important than that?”
The bakery’s website lists a number of tempting takes on old favorites like salted chocolate chip, peanut butter chocolate swirl and rocky road among its offerings as well as specialty cookies like vanilla lavender, mint double chip and gluten-free double chocolate.
Ms. Kirshenbaum’s career began just after college when she left home to hone her craft at culinary school in Paris.
“I fell in love with Paris, with French cooking, all of it,” she said, “I’m the youngest of six girls, and my sisters are all successful professionals. They set the bar pretty high. But when my turn came around, I knew I wanted to do something different. I’m incredibly lucky – I got the chance to turn my passion into a career. It’s humbling.”
When, a few years after graduation, a friend reached out and offered Ms. Kirshenbaum an opportunity to work with some of the top chefs in the world under the bright lights of the Vegas strip, she jumped at the chance
“I grew up in California and had never been to Vegas in my life,” Ms. Kirshenbaum said. “But this was right around 2006, and Vegas was blowing up. All of the major hotels had their own restaurants, their own chefs – it was all about amenities. It was exciting to be a part of all of that, and on top of it, I got the chance to work with some absolutely incredible people.”
Ms. Kirshenbaum spent the next several years touring the strip, serving as the head pastry chef for resorts like the Bellagio, MGM, Mandalay Bay and, eventually, Caesars Palace.
“At Caesar’s, I got the chance to work with Guy Savoy, a very well-known French chef. He brought me on as the pastry chef for his first American restaurant, and we worked together for three years,” she said.
Eventually, after meeting her husband, Jeffrey, Ms. Kirshenbaum’s journey took her back to her home state of California. There, she connected with noted restaurateur David LeFevre and spent five years as his executive pastry chef. Everything, she said, was going to plan.
And then, of course, it all ground to a halt.
“Remember when the lockdown started and we were all telling each other that it couldn’t last for more than a week or two?” she said, laughing. “My husband works in restaurants, too – he’s in operations – and for a long time, we were ships passing in the night. As a pastry chef, I work very early in the morning, and as a general manager, he works late. We always made it work, but then, in 2020, we found ourselves with all of this time to be home together, to spend time with our kids. It was honestly pretty incredible. I think it made us realize what we had been missing.”
So, as pastry chefs are want to do when they have a little time on their hands, Ms. Kirshenbaum started baking.
“At first, I was just keeping busy,” she said, “but then it started to take off. I actually ended up having to rent some commercial space in the middle of the pandemic just to keep up with all of the orders. I brought in a lot of the other chefs that I knew, because, you know, everybody was furloughed and we all wanted to get back into the kitchen. Pretty soon we were mailing cookies all over the country.”
Ultimately, the family decided to pack up their lives in California and move to New Jersey to be closer to Mr. Kirshenbaum’s relatives in Scotch Plains.
“We had been talking about it for a while, but when the cookie business started to take off, we realized it might be a good time to make the move and give it a permanent home,” Ms. Kirshenbaum said. “So that’s what we did. It all came together, and we’re so glad that it did. We can’t wait to get started.”
For more information, or to place an order for some cookies, visit the Kirshenbaum Baking Company at 62 Elm Street or go online: kbcbakery.com