Cold As Ice (Cream): Chef Léna Jackson brings her cool to ANEW Test Kitchen
The ANEW Test Kitchen, an exciting innovation in BBBSEMO’s work with and in community, welcomes another new chef this month. In this profile, we learn more about her approach to the space – which offers culinary creatives of all experience levels both a fully-equipped kitchen and room for diners to try new things out – and how she sees her pop-up helping her realize her goals for the future.
Walking into the ANEW Test Kitchen on Saturday, September 15th, you may not smell much cooking. But you’ll immediately feel the chill in the throwback music, the personal family photos and art, the bright pops of color in the flowers inside and out.
And that’s how you’ll know you’re in exactly the right place.
Chef Léna Jackson is the young St. Louisan behind the first-ever Frozen Dessert Pop-up to hit 519 North Grand in just a couple weeks. This “last taste of summer” will offer icy sweet-seekers a range of original ice creams, sorbets, and other frozen delights featuring Jackson’s delicious flavor- and texture combinations.
A spirit of creativity – and perfectionism – infuses everything Jackson makes. An accomplished and trained chef, Jackson graduated magna cum laude from Art Institute of California – San Diego in 2015 and worked under a top chef in SD before returning home to St. Louis.
Once back, she began the all-cuisines, all-occasions Doré, a catering business she named for a cooking term that’s also the French equivalent of Golden – her first kitchen mentor and beloved grandfather’s middle name.
“He was the first person who taught me how to cook,” Jackson says. “I spent so much time with my grandfather, and my grandmother… my love for that [experience] created passion for everything else: I just loved cooking, and catering to people in that way. And there’s something about watching somebody take that first bite that you don’t forget. There is no greater feeling.”
Jackson has come a long way since deciding, at age eight, to become a chef. She’s built a reputation among clients for savory dishes – and the skills and gumption to try new ones. A recent foray into gumbo, at a bride’s special request, met with unanimous approval by a whole New Orleanian wedding party.
That affirmation also gave the young chef a boost of confidence she hadn’t realized she’d needed.
“That was the moment I was like, ‘Okay, I can stop doubting myself and worrying if I’m doing the right thing,’” says Jackson. “That’s how I knew I made it,” she laughs.
While Chef Léna’s pop-up at ANEW won’t include hot dishes, there’s little doubt she’ll bring the heat with one-of-a-kind creations showing her passion for the cold.
“I am that person who will eat frozen desserts in the middle of winter!” Jackson says. She also goes beyond “the traditional vanilla or regular chocolate” with “unique flavors that you’re really not going to find all over St Louis,” she says, adding, “it is going to be very unique to Doré.”
The chef’s especially excited to introduce new initiates to a flavor she calls “all of the best worlds”: her signature Sweet Potato Pie ice cream.
“You’ll get a little bit of the sweet potato and you’ll taste the crust,” says Jackson. “You’re not going to miss any bit of the flavor. It’s just eating pie in ice cream, and it’s very different.”
In addition to ice creams, ticket holders will also see several sorbets (Hibiscus Margarita, anyone?); popsicles (like Vibranium); and other chilly treats. The one non-melting item? A family-favorite 7 Up pound cake.
Jackson’s Frozen Dessert Pop-Up this month brings two essential components of ANEW Test Kitchen’s mission to life: to be a place that provides a vital resource and supports dreams.
“It’s a great opportunity for different chefs, not only to get their name out in St. Louis, but also for their food and their art to make a name for itself, and speak for itself,” Jackson says.
As to her hopes beyond September, Chef Léna sees her Frozen Dessert Pop-Up this month moving her closer to her ultimate goal of owning her own brick-and-mortar someday.
Unless, of course, her idol calls.
“I don’t want to work for anybody else again. But in the dream of dreams, if I could get the opportunity to work with Marcus Samuelsson” – Jackson’s eyes shine behind her gilded glass frames – “I would drop everything and go.”
Whichever comes first, Chef Léna’s sure to continue experimenting and perfecting, creating clever ice creams and all manner of food inspired by family history, travels, and pop culture… and plotting a way to get Chef Samuelsson a pint of special-delivery Sweet Potato Pie.
(We’re counting ourselves lucky to have a taste this month!)
Chef Léna Jackson’s one-day Frozen Dessert pop-up happens Sep. 15 at ANEW Test Kitchen, 519 North Grand. Tickets for this PRE-SALE, ONE DAY ONLY event can be purchased here. Questions? Email the chef at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT ANEW TEST KITCHEN
Featuring a full catering kitchen and seating for 50, the ANEW Test Kitchen is more than a venue: it is a dynamic, one-of-a-kind space for chefs wanting to test new concepts through pop-up style events. The ANEW Test Kitchen is also – and above all – Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, existing to celebrate, nourish, and renew relationships that change lives. To learn more about how you can partner* with ANEW to bring people together around love, hope, and opportunity, please contact Misty Willinger at email@example.com.
*A percentage of all pop-ups directly support BBBSEMO
Photo credit: BBBSEMO