The pandemic laid a hard smack on the Manhattan restaurant industry, but Chef Jennifer Lyne (with husband Tyler — also a chef — by her side) thrived by mixing just the right amount of creativity with equal parts flexibility and genius. Her pivot has been an enviable thing of beauty and has taken her from a world of catering for clients that included Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop parties, Serena Williams’ wedding, and Lela Rose’s epic house parties to an entirely new version of her culinary career — but this time, in Birmingham, Alabama.
Jennifer and her family moved to Alabama to be near family, but at the request of a new friend during the height of COVID, she and her husband started hosting intimate chef’s tasting experiences in their home each Saturday. That has taken off in the form of Tasting TBL. Now, the next part of their dream is on the horizon as they have purchased Rucker Place, a site in Five Points South, in order to open a new, multidimensional restaurant concept. With her remarkable culinary background including training at the Culinary Institute of America as well as working with Daniel Boulud in New York City, Jennifer brings her talent and experience as a top-level pastry chef to the Birmingham dining scene. Join us as we welcome StyleBlueprint’s latest FACE of Birmingham, Jennifer Lyne.
What, in your early years, made you want to do what you are doing now?
I always helped my mom out in the kitchen since I was very young. I was probably around three [years old] when I can first remember me and my brother standing together on a chair by the counter helping her peel vegetables. Later on, when I was in high school, I started making dinner almost every night for my family, and I would also get up every Saturday morning and start baking right away. The whole dining room table would be filled with baked goods. If something didn’t turn out right, I would want to throw it away, but my mom would say, “No! We will still eat it!” Every Christmas we would make a list of all the Christmas cookies that we were going to bake, and I think the most I ever made was 28 different types. I just love being able to make people happy with sweets!
Your pandemic pivot to chef’s tasting experiences was extremely creative. How did you discover that niche, and how are you liking it?
The supper club actually started from one of our neighbors, Allison Burleson, who came by to pick up some of our moving boxes for a client of hers. When she found out that we were both chefs, she was very excited because she said she did a lot of parties and was looking for a new chef to do them. She had her first party on August 1, 2020, with 11 ladies at our house. After that night, word spread about the dinner on social media and word of mouth, and that’s how the supper club was born.
Your culinary style appeals to multiple senses. Taste seems like it would be the most important. How do you rank the importance of each of the senses as you are putting a plate together?
Taste, sight, smell, touch. Taste and sight I feel like could both be ranked #1 because they are very important to me when I’m creating a dessert. Something could look amazing and appealing to the eye, but taste not so great. And on the other hand, a plate could actually taste amazing, but look horrible. So if I had to choose, I think I would have to say taste is the most important to me. I try really hard to balance my desserts and make sure they are not overly sweet. I love using salt in them to offset the sweetness. I also need to have a crunch in my desserts, and I just love having different textures in them too.
Smell would be ranked number three, but this also depends on the dish. I have done a textured chocolate cake that looks really simple when placed in front of the guest, but then I pour a spiced hot chocolate tableside to melt the top of the chocolate cake and every single person always says, “Wow, we love to smell that chocolate sauce!”
Regarding touch, some of my desserts have the sense of touch. One that comes to mind is when I use halva hair or halva floss, which is made with Turkish halva candy that is pulled into thin strands like cotton candy. It is traditionally made with sesame paste. All the guests love to eat this with their hands, and it definitely brings back some childhood memories of eating cotton candy!
You’re married to a chef. What does your family eat at home?
We eat pretty simply. For example, we might have roasted chicken, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and salad — and we love sandwiches too. We also love to grill. I love burgers and fries! We do order out some nights because we need a break from cooking.
If the culinary arts were taken away, how would you express your creative personality?
I would have to say taking care of [the] family. I love doing arts and crafts with my three-year-old son, and we have a baby girl on the way! Making sure my family is happy and taken care of gives me great joy.
Many food lovers seem to have a strong relationship with the earth because it produces what they eat. Do you find yourself in that camp?
I use nature as inspiration for my desserts, trying to recreate nature’s scenery and nature’s fruit. I have done a few desserts that look like real pieces of fruit. For example, Red Delicious apple dessert, virtual peach, and our pumpkin patch dessert. I always do a Bûche de Noël during December that looks like a winter wonderland.
You’ve prepared food for lots of well-known people. Have you noticed any commonalities among all of your clients, no matter their background? Any major differences?
For people who have everything, food is one thing that they can be surprised with and can have an emotional connection with. Giving them joy in food is very satisfying for me, knowing that I have touched people through my food.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Organization and consolidation will never let you down. Always being organized is a key skill to have in the kitchen. There is the French phrase mise en place, which means putting in place, having everything ready on your station and organized. Consolidating is also an OCD [trait] of mine. If it can be put into a smaller container, then it needs to be consolidated. Working in small kitchens in NYC, you have to be very aware of this because of the limited space you have.
Outside of family, friends, and faith, what are three things you can’t live without?
- My very comfortable Sleep Number bed!
- Christmas movies
Thank you, Jennifer! All photography courtesy of Tasting TBL.
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