Jose Andres said, “I always say that I don’t believe that I’m a chef. I try to be a storyteller.” A storyteller is exactly what Jenn Davis is. As an award-winning food blogger, she uses baking and beautiful images to transport readers far away in both space and time, the way only nostalgia can. Growing up at the crossroads of the Great Outdoors and Southern Hospitality, Jenn is perfectly positioned to write a cookbook that elevates regular food enough to make it guest-worthy, but accessible enough to make it worth the purchase. The Southern Baking Cookbook is set to release this January, and the cover photo alone makes it a fantastic addition to any home cook’s bookshelf.
With roots in North Carolina, a stint in Nashville, and currently calling a 100-year-old Louisville cottage home, Jenn Davis shares the how and why behind her whimsically Southern point of view. Join us as we hear from the newest FACE of Louisville, Jenn Davis.
Your new book is called The Southern Baking Cookbook. There are gifts given to creatives in the South that are innate to the culture here. What has your Southern heritage given to you as a baker?
I grew up in North Carolina, and my mom had a persimmon tree in the yard. We would make persimmon pudding from that tree. We would go around and pick muscadines and scuppernong grapes and make recipes out of those. My dad is a horticulturist, and my mom is an artist. So, I learned about gardening and plants from my dad, and my mom likes to cook and bake.
Where I come from, you make food for people to welcome them to the neighborhood, to comfort them in tough times, or to give to them as a gift. I grew up with a Southern hospitality mindset. I love sharing my love for people through food. “Come on in, we are going to feed you!” was definitely the mindset I was raised with. In the South, we love local flavors and big servings, and I like to cook that way.
I’m in love with your new green kitchen! Why green?
I have an eclectic decorating style, for sure. That color is Behr Herb Cornucopia, and I love it because I was inspired by a Pothos plant I have in my kitchen. The color reminds me of herbs and seasoning — it’s a natural food color. I live in a 100-year-old cottage, so I have these old cherry floors and cherry countertops. The green layered with the brown is really earthy and I love it. Those colors work together to give a natural food sensation.
In your opinion, which country creates the best baked treats?
My very favorite dessert is a cannoli from Italy. Second place is a peach pie. But if I could ever go to France and play around in a kitchen there, I would absolutely love that!
What makes a great food photo?
There are two ways to approach food photography. Some photos are more commercial. They are up close and tightly cropped, and they make you hungry just to look at them. There are often layers and textures, and if a dish is supposed to be hot when you eat it, the photo makes it look very hot. Enticing you to eat that food is the aim.
But that’s not really the goal with my blog photos. Mine are different. I like to create a sense that enables you to imagine yourself being in the scene. I want there to be a nostalgic interest that catches your eye. I want it to look appetizing and honest. If it’s not 100% perfect, that’s fine. I want there to be a sense of home, and I want it to draw you in.
The mood on your Instagram feed aligns well with the seasons. Fall is dark and moody, while spring is pink and cheerful. Which season is your favorite to bake in? Which makes for the best photos?
I definitely try to shoot with the seasons because I’m trying to create a certain feeling with the viewer. I’m always thinking about what my own interpretation is of a shot and how it speaks to me. I think of spring as pastel, summer as bright, and fall as warm.
Personally, I love fall! I’m all in on fall. People have noticed that I shoot warmer tones more often and that’s because I’m a baker and lots of things I make are brown. Baking is more of a cozy, comfort thing to do anyway, so fall is my favorite time to shoot because it’s cozy and comforting too.
Nature seems to play an important role in your photography. Describe your relationship with the outdoors.
I grew up in a neighborhood, but my dad has a large love of the outdoors. I grew up hiking and around gardens. Being outdoors was a regular part of my life, and that’s where our food originates. As I was growing up, my mom would style her table for large family gatherings based on the seasons. A connection with nature was instilled in me all along the way.
Now, I like to bring things in that hint at the time of year that my viewer would be making that food. Seasons are so important in what I do. In winter, I might dust sugar over cookies to make you think of snow. I’m always thinking about showcasing what’s going on outdoors, on my table. I also try to leave little signs that not everyone picks up on. Sometimes I’ll put a plant that looks like wheat or a Christmas touch like a part of a wreath in the photo. It’s not front and center, but it hints at the time of year. I’m bringing a feeling into the photo that I want to convey.
How has Instagram changed your career?
I remember when Instagram came out. At that time, I was training horses. My students told me about it and suggested I put pictures of my horses on there, and I thought, “That’s dumb. I’m not doing that.” But I did eventually put my food on Instagram (check out her feed HERE), and I would say it has put me in front of a lot of people who might never have found my blog otherwise. It’s hard though, because it’s always changing, and I constantly have to reinvent myself to stay current. Right now, they want you to do videos, but I’m a photographer. So, I’m having to learn about video editing. I do know it’s been valuable to my career because it has given people a place to repost my work that has enabled others to see what I’m doing.
RELATED: 10 Dreamy Southern Instagram Feeds
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
This tends to come up a lot in the creative world, but I stand by it: Be true to yourself. Do what makes you happy and what gives you joy. Stay true to your own art.
Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Dirty Chai lattes, a dog — I always have a dog — and long walks outside.
Thank you, Jenn! We’re so inspired!
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