Cooking up a storm in bakery business
Settling on a career in cooking after a decade travelling the world
Jessica McGovern set up the Lincoln Apartment Bakery in Montreal
By her own admission, Jessica McGovern has always found it difficult to choose what to do in life. But far from being a liability, her natural restlessness has allowed her to see a dizzying number of countries while working as a teacher, journalist and, now, bakery teacher.
Currently based in Montreal, she’s just about to hop on a flight to Tokyo with her boyfriend to practice the Japanese they’ve been learning for the past six months. But, not before a cup of tea and some shortbread coated with a generous layer of creamy chocolate.
It’s been six months since McGovern set up the Lincoln Apartment Bakery, teaching tipsy bachelorette parties how to bake naughty-shaped cakes and cookies. What began as a hobby has now turned into a fully-fledged business.
She left Galway City more than a decade ago to study English and drama at Queen’s University in Belfast. “It was fun, but useless,” she says. Degree under her belt, she went to Ghana, where she worked in an orphanage in the slums of Accra for six months.
From there, it was off to China to work as a teacher, picking up some Mandarin along the way. Eventually, taking a circuitous route through Australia and the Middle East, she found herself in Edinburgh, where she took a master’s in journalism at Napier University.
“I did the course because I thought it would be great for the connections,” she says. This proved to be true when she landed a plum internship at Reuters, a month-long stint that boosted her portfolio no end, earning her bylines in the international press.
‘Baptism of fire’
The summer after her course, she headed to Vancouver to write her thesis on Chinese immigration. While there, she developed a taste for the free-wheeling West vibe of the city, with its beaches and impressive mountain backdrop. “It felt like a movie,” she says.
But Canada would wait for now. Thesis out of the way, she stumbled upon an online ad for an editor’s job with an expats’ newspaper in France. Nailing the job after a phone interview, she hopped on a plane to Nice, where she lived a jet-set lifestyle for a year-and-a-half
The job, her first in journalism, was a “baptism of fire”, a crash course in managing editorial, liaising with advertising and navigating office politics. But, assignments such as the Cannes film festival – where she shook hands with Stephen Spielberg – made it all worthwhile.
Still, the old wanderlust soon came knocking again. “The opulence I saw there was something else,” she remembers. “It’s great if you’re 70 with plastic surgery, walking your pooch down the promenade, but I was ready to move on.”
In 2009, she took off on a grand tour of Latin America, stopping two weeks in Buenos Aires that somehow turned into a year-and-a-half. She earned her keep with teaching and freelance journalism, while learning tango, Spanish, Wing Chun, Vietnamese cooking and pole-dancing (“for fitness, not the stripper kind,” she specifies).
She fell in love with the city – “the tango, the sunshine, the passion, the people, the steaks and the wine” – but the economy was nose-diving. “It was the first time I learnt what inflation meant. It meant that the price of roast chicken in the supermarket would shoot up overnight,” she says.
She decided to head back to the more stable climes of Canada, this time to Montreal. “I wanted a proper job, a proper lifestyle. I felt I had to get settled,” she says.
Her persistence paid off when, after a four-month search, she was hired as a communications officer at McGill University. The move allowed her to catch her breath. For nearly two years, she enjoyed the novelty of sitting in an office earning a regular income.
But spending five days a week in front of a computer, she began to hanker for more contact with other people, the type she’d enjoyed while teaching. Remembering how she’d enjoyed baking with her mum when she was young, she started giving lessons every Saturday afternoon.
Advertising her classes on social networking sites, demand soon grew to the point where she had to make a decision. She opted to turn the bakery into a full-time occupation, going on a marketing blitz and partnering with local business and community groups to offer special group packages. As well as bachelorettes, she also does birthdays, corporate events and kids’ parties.
With her summer all booked up, the holiday in Japan will be a welcome break. But, she’ll be back soon. “It’s been a rollercoaster ride,” she says, setting her mug of tea down onto the table. “But, now I’m ready to settle down.”