Author Jackie Kai Ellis is a gifted woman with several talents. She is a writer, fashion ambassador, advice columnist and designer.
After studying fine arts and design in Toronto and Vancouver, Ellis decided to pursue her dream to be a pastry chef in Paris. After finishing her studies she launched the award-winning pâtisserie Beaucoup Bakery & Café in Vancouver.
Ellis is an author. Since moving on from the bakery she has completed a riveting bestselling memoir entitled “The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris“. Next fall you will be able to watch her on “House Special”, an upcoming TV series that will dig into Chinese-Canadian history through the vehicle of Chinese-Canadian food found in small towns.
Jackie Kai Ellis took took time out of her schedule to talk about her memoir, passion for food, upcoming television show and enthusiasm for travel.
Vacay.ca: First, congratulations on all the interesting things you have been up to and congrats on your bestselling book “The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery and Paris”. It’s an excellent read. You must be extremely happy with it.
Jackie Kai Ellis: I am happy with it, thanks! I love the fact that the book continues to inspire deep conversation.
Vacay.ca: Great feedback from critics, including author Jen Waite, bestselling author of “A Beautiful Terrible Thing“. I have to say personally I’ve never quite read a book like yours before. It has everything – something for the travel lover, something for the foodie and something for people who love drama.
“With searing vulnerability and unflinching honesty, Jackie Kai Ellis takes us on an intense and immersive journey from her darkest moments to the redemption she finds through her love of food, Paris, and ultimately, herself.”
Jen Waite, bestselling author of ‘A Beautiful, Terrible Thing’
JKE: Thank you!
Vacay.ca: I find some memoirs to be somewhat self-serving but I found yours to be really honest – sometimes painfully so. For example on page 67 you talked about the pain you felt when your mom told you the day before your wedding that she didn’t think you should get married to the man you planned to marry. Or the conversation with your ex-husband on page 254 when you both arrive at the painful decision to divorce. It takes courage to be vulnerable, especially in public. Did you know the book would go in that direction or did it just evolve that way?
JKE: I knew even before I decided to write the memoir that I had to come to terms with being extremely vulnerable and honest. That meant sharing things about myself that I felt a lot of shame about. That is one reason why it took me so long to decide to write it because I had to get over the fear of being exposed because I knew there was no way for me to write an honest memoir if I didn’t write all of it – even the difficult parts.
Vacay.ca: Well it takes courage to be honest about your life to complete strangers, and I am certainly grateful for that. But that is literally the difference between a powerful, honest story and a non-story. That’s why I truly appreciated what you wrote.
“I knew even before I decided to write the memoir that I had to come to terms with being extremely vulnerable and honest. That meant sharing things about myself that I felt a lot of shame about.”
Jackie Kai Ellis
JKE: I appreciate that! I agree with you about memoirs. People tend to only write the good stuff but I sometimes feel like that doesn’t do very much justice to their strength and how much work someone needs to go through in order to get to a point where they feel like they could be proud of themselves for some of the things they have accomplished.
I don’t think my publisher knew what they were in for when they asked me to write this memoir. They were probably thinking ‘Oh maybe she’ll have some fluffy story about Paris or something.’ But I knew there was so much more I needed to share.
I also realized that unless I wrote the book honestly people would not be able to actually relate. The whole point of me wanting to write the book is because I believed there might be someone out there that recognizes themselves in my really dark moments. And if so, perhaps I can make a difference and help somebody.
Vacay.ca: That’s easier said than done. Let’s face it, being vulnerable isn’t easy. There’s one part in your book where you talk about the moment you came back to your apartment to discover that your husband had left. You write about ‘taking back your space’ and then sitting on your makeshift couch and calling your mother in tears. There were so many tiny, powerful stories about your life wrapped within the larger story of your journey. It must have been crazy trying to figure out where to put all these mini-stories of your life.
JKE: The structure of the book and the chapters were planned carefully. I asked myself what the chapter was going to be about and which recipe will go with each story. There were many more vignettes than I thought there would be but the themes of each chapter really crystallized as I was writing the vignettes.
Vacay.ca: I love how you blended your life story with your favorite dishes and how you told your story through food. The Eggplant Bharta (page 68), Pork and Chive Dumplings (page 37), Chocolate Chip Cookie (page 7), Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting recipe (page 83) and of course your Croissant (page 217). Last but not least the Ants on a Log recipe, raisins on celery stick coated with peanut butter, the first dish you learned and the only one I have been able to make without thoroughly burning.
JKE: Oh really? Okay good, I’m happy to hear that. Ants on a Log is an easy one and it’s super delicious.
Vacay.ca: I loved how you wrote about your quest to make the perfect croissant. It seemed like quite a challenge.
My body was calm. I began to warm up. I had clarity that everyone choosing to live was in a river too. There was no controlling the direction that it flowed or what came next. I saw the vanity in swimming against the current, as if I could control nature itself. And I was given an opportunity to explore the water comfortably submerged within it.
In that moment, I learned to trust life.
Jackie Kai Ellis, ‘The Measure of My Powers’
JKE: I’m not doing the quest not anymore (laughing). I can’t. There’s no way.
Vacay.ca: How did you choose the dishes in your book?
JKE: The recipes were chosen after the chapter was done. I would go back into the chapter and ask myself what was this, what were the food memories at that point of my life. Obviously the memory with my grandmother has to be the Pork and Chive Dumplings recipe. We have these foods that symbolize moments of our lives.
Vacay.ca: No arguments here. You made excellent recipe choices in your book.
JKE: Thank you!
Vacay.ca: I had the chance to see you read your memoir in Stratford, Ontario at the Appetite for Words Festival. You had the chance to read from your book and delight the crowd with some recipes taken directly from your memoir. Did you enjoy being in Stratford?
JKE: I did. It’s such a cute, charming town! I enjoyed my time there and I loved being part of Appetite for Words.
Vacay.ca: Could you say a few words about your experiences in Paris? It’s clear you love the city.
JKE: I think Paris is one of those cities that’s easy to fall in love with because you don’t have to go looking for its beauty. It’s everywhere, it sort of just gets shoved down your throat. The architecture, the food, even when it rains it is sort of romantic. The people are dressed so well and the language is so beautiful. There’s so much art everywhere, it’s such an inspiring place to walk around and stroll. Paris is an easy city to just completely lose yourself in.
Vacay.ca: You are in Paris right now riding out the pandemic but you have also spent a lot of time in Vancouver.
JKE: It’s funny. I do miss Paris when I’m in Vancouver but when I’m in Paris I miss Vancouver. Paris is flashy but Vancouver has so much nature, it’s so beautiful. The air smells like forest. It smells like sweet earth. I’m not even joking, it’s so beautiful in Vancouver.
Vacay.ca: And you have more good news. Can you tell us about your new television show “House Special”?
JKE: Yes! The show is called “House Special”. I’ll be travelling by rail in Canada to small towns. I’ll be visiting Chinese Canadian restaurants, digging deeper into the Chinese Canadian immigrant history and stories behind racism. I will be discussing what it means to be a Chinese Canadian – and Canadian period – through the vehicle of Chinese Canadian food.
So for example, is chop suey a fine representation of Chinese Canadian food? What merit does it have and what stories can it tell. I’m going to be shooting that over the next year. It’s going to be a delightful project, just a little five episode series and it’s going to be so much fun but it’s also so relevant to what is happening.
JKE: Also I’ve accepted a position as the head of product development with Flax Home, a linen company that focuses on homes. I’ll be expanding their product line and offering a bit of creative direction.
Vacay.ca: Wonderful. Lastly, what can we look forward to from Jackie Kai Ellis in the future? Any places you plan to travel to in the future?
JKE: I’ve been really dreaming about going back to Santa Fe in New Mexico I love that city. It’s so intensely creative but also I feel like I want to explore places like Jordan or Iran. There are so many places in that area of the world with flavors and spices that I want to try. The food is so unknown to me and every time I eat it I just find it to be so elegant and nuanced. I want to know more about that, hopefully one day.
Vacay.ca: Jackie, congratulations on your book and on your upcoming television show. We will certainly keep our eyes out for it. Thank you for sitting down with us and sharing your story.
JKE: My pleasure, thank you!
The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris
Penguin Random House: Click Here
Paperback & Audiobook: $24.95