by Layne Lynch • Photography by Kate LeSueur
Jodi Elliott is at the precipice of a major transformation in her life. And while many pastry chefs would leap at the chance to command the sweet side of the menu at awarding-winning restaurants like Foreign & Domestic, Per Se and Gramercy Tavern, Elliott is putting those fine-dining days on the back burner and returning to the refined basics with her upcoming pastry shop and dessert bar, Bribery Bakery—named in honor of what she jokingly refers to as her favorite form of parenting.
“When we started doing the bake sales at Foreign & Domestic, I learned that ease and simplicity was something that really resonated with people,” says Elliott. “Everyone connects with desserts that remind them of family and things they can make in their own home—things like cookies and cakes. That’s what I want to do with Bribery—make these familiar desserts and pastries, and add my own spin.”
The upcoming East Side space will feature both retail fare and a dining area where guests can sip beverages, devour a selection of pastry treats and order from a menu of light savory dishes such as quiche and salads. What’s more, the space will reopen at night as a dessert bar to serve craft cocktails and plated desserts. And while sugar fiends around the city are no doubt counting down the days until Elliott finally opens her dream, this gifted pastry chef isn’t in any rush to step away from the blissful baking sessions she’s immersed herself in lately with a certain bubbly 6-year-old girl—her daughter Billie Van, who today stands by Elliott’s side atop a kitchen stool with a frosting-coated spatula in hand. “We like making desserts that are absurdly simple, and what a lot of people don’t realize is that the recipes on the cake box are pretty spot on,” says Elliott. “I love to take those recipes, build on them and focus instead on using higher-quality ingredients and incorporating those extra meaningful touches that every cook has. And Billie helps me so much. It’s been awesome to see her pick it up so fast.”
Elliott says she often calls upon Billie Van to aid her in whisking, mixing, baking, frosting and, of course, taste-testing her assorted sweets and treats in their homey kitchen. Surrounded by various baby announcements and wedding invitations from friends and family, hand-stitched Julia Child quotes on the wall and a fridge covered with Billie Van’s crayon creations, the energetic mother likes to whip up quick favorites, such as hearty spaghetti with fresh-baked garlic bread, multilayered green-chili chicken and creamy macaroni and cheese. But when a cocoa craving kicks in, Elliott prepares one of their favorite non-guilty pleasures: chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream and caramel sauce. “It’s one of the most satisfying dishes out there, and I’m never ever too full to eat a slice,” she says. “It’s a dessert you never get tired of making because there’s so many different ways you can prepare it.”
Special touches, such as Valrhona chocolate, set the soft, creamy dessert apart from most other indulgent, homemade creations. But the greatest satisfaction for Elliott isn’t the finished product—it’s guiding the rainbow-tutu-clad Billie as she carefully cracks eggs into a stainless-steel mixing bowl, spreads frosting onto their topsy-turvy cake and drizzles molasses-like layers of sauce onto the collaborative edible experiment. “Normally when I do interviews, they want to focus on the things I do in the restaurant,” she says. “But being at home with Billie is my life. This is who I really am.”
It’s this formula of family, comfort and memory-making experiences that Elliott hopes to re-create in Bribery Bakery when she finally opens the space in the coming months. “I want it to be the type of place you can take your kid to during the day and then turn around and grab a cocktail at night with friends,” she says. “If I can find the balance between those two dynamics, I’ll be happy.” And, of course, guests will find Elliott’s signature chocolate cake on Bribery’s menu, too—in several forms and interpretations. “I think the real question is,” she ponders, “in what world could chocolate cake ever not be on the menu?”