From the Classroom to the Big Apple
by Katie Holliday
COLS Special Reports Intern
Baking as Therapy
Rebekah Peppler is without a doubt at home in her mother’s kitchen in Oshkosh. Her movements practiced and sure, she mixes the batter for her newest creation -- pumpkin cupcakes. On the counter behind her are chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with sea salt and a few freshly baked hazelnut butter cookies.
State of Cake: Rebekah Peppler, B.A. Journalism 08', at the French Culinary Institute in New York City.
“It’s kitchen therapy,” Peppler says. “Anytime life gets overwhelming or if it’s simply been a long day, I head to the kitchen to recollect and re-center.”
These days baking is not solely done as a stress reducer for Peppler. Less than two years after graduating from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Peppler found a way to combine her passion for pastry arts and writing into a new career. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism in 2008 and, in 2009, graduated with a degree in the classic French pastry arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City.
Now living in New York City, Peppler is working as a researcher for CBS News Productions on a project for the upcoming Scripps Cooking Channel. In addition, she works as a researcher and production assistant for New York producer Lauren Deen and Cake Productions. She also freelances as a food stylist for print and television and works as a writer, photographer, recipe developer and pastry expert for several popular food sites including saveur.com, the Web site for Saveur, an award-winning food and travel magazine, and food2.com, an affiliate of Food Network. Peppler is the founder of Hungry Eyes, a blog featuring her own recipes, stories and photography. Additionally, she is a recurring guest as the featured pastry chef on Wisconsin’s Fox 11 Living with Amy.
A Solid Education
Peppler’s success in the world of food production and writing can be attributed to her combined educations in journalism and the French pastry arts.
An eye for food: Peppler snaps shots of her own kitchen creations.
“The education I received at UW Oshkosh has significantly helped me in all aspects of what I’m doing now,” she says. “For example, I edit most of my own pieces…so I not only have to make sure it sounds beautiful, it has to be technically perfect. That’s where my degree in news/editorial journalism comes into play.”
UW Oshkosh was a clear choice for Peppler. “I went to Oshkosh West High School, and at that time…you could go to the university and take free classes,” she says. She took full advantage of the opportunity to explore what the University had to offer by taking a myriad of classes in journalism, art history, anthropology and radio, TV and film. Peppler soon discovered that UW Oshkosh had much more to offer than just a variety of intriguing courses.
“The professors were beyond helpful. You could go in, pull up a chair and talk to them about whatever was going on, in class and out,” she says. "[They] care deeply about what they're doing and where their students are headed."
The dedicated and experienced instructors Peppler found at UW Oshkosh as a high school student further cemented her decision to continue there as a journalism major, with minors in art history and English creative writing.
Into the Kitchen
A Sweet Heart: Peppler, a food stylist, writer and photographer, creates a tasty treat.
While still enrolled at UW Oshkosh, Peppler contemplated graduate degrees in journalism and art history, but her mind always wandered toward culinary school. However, Peppler didn't embrace the culinary arts as a hobby, or as a possible career path until a particularly high-stress day in high school. Her mother suggested she bake cookies to relax, an act that would remain an escape and later develop into a career.
During college, Peppler landed her first experience in a professional kitchen when Mark Vaccaro, then chef and owner of Fusion by Mark in Fond du Lac, Wis., offered her a position as house manager and server. Before and after her shifts, Peppler would throw on a chef’s jacket, making desserts and trying her hand in the kitchen.
She helped plate dishes on the hot line and worked the garde manger (salad and dessert) station. The high-stress, time-critical tasks left her yearning for a calmer assignment.
"I think I lasted a month,” she says of her hot line experience. “[Chef Mark] knew from the start that I wasn't meant for the culinary side. I’m meant for the quieter, more focused and detail-oriented pastry aspect of the kitchen.”
In September 2008, Peppler headed for the French Culinary Institute in New York City to study classic French pastry arts and take a short focused course on food writing with national award-winning food writer Alan Richman.
TV Ready: Rebekah Peppler shows off her culinary skills on Wisconsin Fox 11 Living with Amy Show.
These days, Peppler is juggling her multiple jobs as production assistant and researcher for the two television production companies. Among her duties are writing, editing, revising and reviewing scripts, laying out episode segments, researching, scouting talent and acting as an on-set production assistant. Before and after her production workday, she writes, develops, tests and photographs recipes for her various freelance positions. What free time she has, she devotes to her own writing, photography, food styling and television appearances.
“I’m a busy girl, but my time at UW Oshkosh taught me the art of multitasking,” Peppler says. “The fact that my two passions – writing/editing and pastry arts - thrive on meticulous attention to detail makes organizing my life a little more manageable. Plus, I get a perverse pleasure from having everything line up perfectly.”
During a recent brief visit to Oshkosh in February, Peppler made another appearance on Wisconsin’s Fox 11 Living with Amy. As always when she’s back home in Oshkosh, she finds herself in her mother’s kitchen. "I think being able to combine two educations and make a career path out of them gives me an edge," she says as the spice-filled aroma of freshly baked cupcakes fills the kitchen and she moves to make the maple cream cheese frosting. "It's just incredible that I was able to get two highly distinguished degrees and put them both to work every single day."
Photo composition by Shawn McAfee of UW Oshkosh Media Services.
In this video, Rebekah Peppler, B.A. Journalism '08, talks about her journey from the classroom to the Big Apple and how she is applying what she has learned at UW Oshkosh in her new career.
The video is also available for download to your iPod through UW Oshkosh iTunesU (requires iTunes).
In the following videos, Rebekah Peppler was the featured pastry chef on Wisconsin Fox 11 Living with Amy. The shows aired on Feb. 12, 2010 and Dec. 3, 2009.