There is something brewing in Salem Massachusetts, and it’s so delicious it may very well be witchcraft.
She’s Incredible Edible Kitchen! Perusing this chef’s Instagram reveals sinfully decadent sweets, festive soups, and mouthwatering savories. Infusing her whimsy personality into her baked goods, the final product invokes a sense of nostalgia and an almost childlike wonderment.
Strawberry cheesecakes or pumpkin soup. Rocky road brownies or carrot cake cookies. Stews, scones, cupcakes and puff pastries will enchant your senses and spark warmth in your day. It’s all home made in a tiny kitchen just beyond Boston.
The Magic Maker
The woman responsible? Meet Chef Tess Conley, a seasoned member of the culinary community, and a woman who’s lighting up the North Shore with her playful menus that truly deliver on taste. What’s more, this certain chef is somehow able to come out with a brand new menu each and every week, all while juggling other responsibilities.
Tess is all smiles and giggles in and out of the kitchen. “I used to daydream about having a cooking show,” she said to me when we sat down over zoom. “It was called the Incredible Edible Kitchen.” And while the cooking show may not have come to life yet, Tess is finding success in the food world- a reality that is unsurprising for her.
“When I was growing up I used to love to make recipes,” she said, regarding her young start. Her parents were her earliest two top. “I would just make [recipes] up and I would cook them, and I would give them to my mom.” She laughs, adding, “She would graciously eat every single bite every single time.”
Steady As She Doughs
When Tess came of high school age she opted to apply to a vocational high school where she could hone her passion. The summer before her first semester, she spent all her time baking. Tess rose through the ranks quickly, each year being the one student chosen to participate in a statewide culinary competition. She is not shy about her talents, nor should she be. “I was kind of the best in my class,” she says, smiling with that contagious grin. Looking at what she has going on now, I see no reason to challenge this assertion. Today, Tess features weekly menus on her Instagram page, and spends her Saturdays whipping up her coveted goodies for her customers.
She didn’t start out looking to bake in bulk. Up until early 2020, Tess was only using Instagram to post food she made for herself personally, as a way to show off her knack for presentation and creativity. When the pandemic hit, and life slowed to a crawl, Tess started reimagining what she could accomplish from her kitchen.
This chef decided to put herself out there. She posted a story on her Instagram asking if people would be interested in a weekly menu. I was surprised to learn how quickly everything came together. “I put out my first menu that day, there was no thought put into it. I took a ton of orders and then in one day, on Saturday, I woke up, went grocery shopping, made all the food and made all the deliveries. I think I got home around 9.” Maybe I should not have been surprised; Tess has always been the kind of woman who does what she says she is going to do. Need I reiterate the state championships?
This nosh is no joke. Her cakes and pies are gorgeous, celebrating colors and textures. Her red velvet cupcakes had me personally returning to the little bakery box again and again throughout the same evening I brought some home; those cupcakes were gone by morning. Oh, and snackers beware: there is no putting down her chocolate chip cookies.
It’s not just her natural knack for snacks that keeps the flavor coming. Tess is always mindful of the ingredients she is putting in her food, ensuring they are made by ethical companies, and that they’re high quality and fresh. Making conscious shopping choices is a really great, unspoken way to be a small light in the world. The added expense, to Tess, is very well worth it. “At the end of the day, the difference is a couple of dollars and the product that I’m making is so much better.” Speaking from my experience with her red velvet cupcakes, I’d have to agree.
Some people are just born with a spark, and Tess took that spark and ran with it, educating herself and putting herself everywhere she could in the kitchen to develop her well rounded expertise. “I’ve worked on lines, I’ve worked in catering, I’ve been in bakeries, I’ve managed, I’ve been a server, I’ve done it all. You just pick it up along the way.”
While Tess has picked up quite a bit, in talking to her and trying her food, it’s very easy to tell most of what she’s doing is just, well, being Tess. She laughs and lowers her voice to a whisper: “Low key, my menus are a little selfish because they’re what I want to eat that week. There’s at least one item I’m dying for on every menu.” But of course, there is much more to it than that.
“It has consisted of a lot of…scrolling through menus and googling and looking at cookbooks and being on Instagram seeing what other people are doing…it has taken every moment of my free time. Sometimes I just sit in my bed and read menus of restaurants around me.” On her menu development and decision making, she asks herself “What am I seeing a lot of right now? What’s really popular?” She’s obviously finding the answers to her inquiries: Tess gets a lot of orders every week, and while sometimes it can get hectic, she is still all smiles. Reflecting, she’s still breezy. “It didn’t feel like working.”
Her weekly menus are her pride and passion, and it’s certainly well earned pride. Playfully designed and alive with colors and flavors that tease the current season, you can’t help but be drawn to it. But let’s get real. How on Earth is she coming up with such a versatile menu without freezing time? I can’t even do my own meal planning for one week, and I’m only cooking for two!
True to form, Tess is delighted to tell me. “I like to make new things. For a long, long time, I didn’t repeat anything on the menu…it’s fun for me. It tests my cockiness; I won’t test it out before the menu.” So, not only is she coming up with new items every week, Tess is coming up with recipes she has never tried before. The confidence level required for this is immeasurable, and well earned. If I’m being frank, that level of confidence is a light all on its own. Of course, a menu can’t be entirely made up of untested items. She does, occasionally, play favorites.
“I’m super into scones lately [laughs]. Scones are fun, you just make a base and you can put whatever you want in them…they’re a great menu item if I want to be doing something new… if I’ve had more of a hectic week, because I can make a really good scone and I can just fill it with something interesting.”
I’ve had the privilege of trying this Chef’s scones, both sweet and savory, and she’s not kidding. Her scones are interesting, but more importantly, they’re a delicacy. Whether it’s a savory prosciutto and gruyere as an appetizer or sweet raspberry and almond for dessert, these scones belong in your home.
You can follow Tess’s Incredible Edible Kitchen page here. Try not to scroll while hungry. And if you’re in the North Shore and your partner’s birthday is coming up, (or if you’re like me, and your own birthday is coming up), there is one thing Tess wants you to know. “I really like it when people involve me in their special days, I just think that’s really cool.” So don’t be shy about what you want to see in your cake, or on your pie. Chef Tess will be there with you every step of the way. “I want to be involved – if you have an idea I wanna help you get there.” Tess truly is a light in this world. Let her take you by the hand and lead you to a pastry paradise.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m pretty sure I still have some of her peanut butter squares in my fridge…
Come and meet Chef Tess!Tweet