asian american portrait cookies

Cookie artist and activist Jasmine Cho didn’t start baking until she was in high school, but now she’s using her passion and platform to make a difference and elevate the representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Cho, who lives in Pittsburgh, PA, always loved eating baked goods, but it wasn’t until a friend noticed the numerous cookbooks she had that Cho started experimenting with recipes herself. In 2010, after she had been baking for fun for almost a decade (but dreaming of owning her own bakery), she decided to go into the field professionally despite her lack of formal culinary education or restaurant experience.

jasmine cho

To break into the business, she started making YouTube videos of herself baking and decorating cookies and used them as her portfolio to apply to bakeries in the area. All five bakeries she applied to offered her positions, and before she knew it she had her first official pastry position as Head Cookie Baker. She held that position for two years before financial reasons had her headed back into the world of cubicles. Her love for baking, however, never waned.

So, in 2015, with the support of her partner, she opened Yummyholic, an online bakery where she had the freedom to be as creative as she wanted. The goal, she said, was to create the Hello Kitty of bakeries with a focus on “adorably delicious sweets that made people happy both in their tummies and through their eyes.”

Soon, friends started asking her to decorate cookies in their likenesses. Though she had no formal art training, her portrait cookies went viral. That’s when she decided that if people were going to pay attention to her work, she wanted them to learn something. So, she started making cookies that allowed her to direct viewers’ focus to issues she cared about such as Afro-Asian celebrities and artist Christine Sun Kim. She also made cookie likenesses of Sandra Oh, Ali Wong, Keanu Reeves, James Baldwin, Stacey Abrams and Alex Trebek.

cookie portrait of christine sun kim

Her cookie activism led to more opportunities including a TedxPittsburgh talk and an appearance on Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge, which she won.

In 2017, she went a step further, using her experience as a stressed out, small business owner as the impetus to go back to college and study art therapy. “For me personally, there was more emotional struggle than anything,” Cho said, “I became more conscious of how I was able to not quit and persist in my work because I gathered so much rest and rejuvenation and joy from the actual baking and cookie art making. That’s where I got all of my energy, and that’s when I started wondering if there’s anything called bake therapy out there.”

Her program, a mix of studio art classes and psychology classes, led to her publishing a children’s book called Role Models Who Look Like Me. Her goal is to publish research to back and legitimize bake therapy so it can be used as a tool to help people. “I envision seeing kitchens across the country being funded and empowered to become healing spaces, not just for the creation of sustenance and consumption, but of art and healing,” Cho said.

cookie portrait of amanda gorman

One of Cho’s latest projects is a collaboration with local non-profit Eden’s Farm, which provides resources to survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. The founder, who is part Thai, reached out to Cho asking if she would honor some of the survivors of Asian American identity, and Cho is honored to help elevate their stories and those of other underrepresented people.

“I want everyone to realize that they have a platform of their own,” said Cho. “I want to encourage them to be activated too and use whatever their small but mighty passions are to serve causes that are greater than themselves – that’s how we make the world sweeter.”

 

AUTHOR

Sarah Strong

Beyondish Assistant Editor Sarah Strong is a New York City based writer who holds a master’s degree in food studies and is obsessed with television. You can follow her on Instagram at @feedsstrong to see where she eats, what she cooks and what sneakers she’s wearing.

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