JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
While food trucks are still a pretty scarce sight in Durango’s street food scene, locals have been able to grab inexpensive, fast food at events such as the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, where food trucks are welcome.
But where on the evolutionary ladder that launched pizza and tacos from sidewalk food carts to mobile vending can a pastry chef find a rung to peddle her wares?
That’s a question Jocelyn Skill of Skillfully Decadent is asking from her bakery on wheels that rolls out high-end desserts at street-level prices.
Skill’s $2 lemon meringue tarts were among the edibles savored by art lovers at Durango’s recent Autumn Arts festival, where the pastry chef delivered treats straight from her 18-by-8½-foot stainless-steel, mobile commercial kitchen.
The Canadian-born Skill dabbles in chocolates, meringues, fondants and croissants, wielding a pastry bag like the rest of us might a smartphone.
The 40-year-old newcomer to Durango cut her teeth and likely burned a finger or two on an Easy Bake Oven, the Hasbro toy sensation introduced in the early 1960s.
“I really went through those little light bulbs,” Skill said, describing the oven’s incandescent 100-watt bulbs used as a heat source for baking miniature cakes.
She credits her dad’s sweet tooth paired with her mom’s refusal to step into the kitchen as motivation for her to bake life-size cupcakes for school fundraising bake sales.
“My mom would say, ‘You know I don’t bake. Just go buy something from the grocery store.’ Well, I was not going to do that,” she said.
When the eager amateur announced during high school that she wanted to cook for a living, her parents suggested that instead she should pursue a stable career, such as nursing.
Skill was not convinced. Instead she enrolled in a local Ontario, Canada, college that had a culinary program, where she was the only chef-in-training who wanted to specialize in pastry.
“I like things to be perfect,” Skill said, explaining how she differed from her culinary school classmates who instead “wanted to throw things in a pot” and experiment creatively.
Skill’s chance to be creative came when a pastry chef at Alberta Canada’s Banff Springs Hotel Resort, where she did an apprenticeship, put her in charge of prepping delicate desserts for hundreds.
She honed her skills at hotel and resort kitchens in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but it was at a helicopter skiing company lodge, where she baked breakfast scones, plated desserts and après ski snacks, that she averaged 70 to 90 hours a week in a commercial kitchen.
Panna cotta one night was followed by tiramisu the next. Fruit sushi, flourless chocolate cake and tart tatin were favorites, but guests also expected cinnamon buns and challah, too, she said.
Transitioning from a large commercial kitchen to the eventual confines of a food truck wasn’t the challenge one might expect, Skill said. She has experience as an executive chef on an exclusive dive boat, in a casino kitchen and as a caterer on a movie set.
Still, hauling cake stands and fondant molds in a pastry kitchen on wheels was not part of the overall plan when Skill moved to Durango to marry her sweetheart, Jeff Weiss.
She assumed she’d work as a pastry chef, but there were no jobs to be had.
“By the time I got my green card in October 2011, the well had run dry,” Skill said, describing the dearth of pastry chef jobs in Durango.
“I’m a one-trick pony. (Being a pastry chef) is all that I’ve done for the last 20 years,” she said.
Skill and her husband discussed employment options.
“We knocked it (choices) back and forth and decided we’d find a way to make things happen.”
The couple landed a great deal on a used food truck on eBay and had the high-end kitchen on wheels delivered from Connecticut to Durango. She tweaked and fine-tuned it before approaching festival organizers in July 2012 to announce Skillfully Decadent’s arrival to Durango’s food scene.
Skill said eventually she’d like to find a place to park her commercial kitchen, which is subject to all the health-code regulations of a brick and mortar food establishment.
But for now, she’s delighted to work all the festivals and venues the Four Corners has to offer.
“I’d like to get my own storefront, eventually,” she said. “A little café, where maybe I can even teach others the passion for making pastry. That’s another dream – one down the road in the future.”