From the Chicago Tribune:
Filipino and American baking styles marry in sky-high cakes at Jennivee's Bakery:
"Everyone should be able to indulge in cake," says Jen Vailoces. "It's one of life's simple pleasures." For Vailoces, it's more than indulgence. "I've always loved cake," she says, a passion that drove her to leave a career as a physical therapist to open Jennivee's Bakery earlier this year.
A self-taught baker since childhood — like many great bakers, Vailoces started by experimenting with box mixes — Vailoces' specialty is combining elements of her Filipino heritage with classic Southern layer cakes. Playing with lighter-style chiffon cake infused with tropical flavors — think pandan leaf, mango and ube (purple yam, which is increasingly popular around the country) — Vailoces' creations are light, creamy and dramatically sky-high. "I want to pay homage to those cute Southern ladies who would bring layer cakes to church," says Vailoces, "but with flavors unfamiliar to most Americans." The current most popular cake, she says, is the Purple Velvet, a quadruple-layer play on the classic, chocolatey red velvet, with spongy ube chiffon and whipped ube mousse, as opposed to a heavier buttercream.
"Filipino cakes tend to be lighter and less rich than American cakes," says Vailoces. "You can enjoy without feeling overstuffed." She and her team of bakers also make denser cupcakes and cookies with the same eye toward tropical flavors, but the slices of cake are the true draw. "I was inspired by late-night cafes in New York, where you can see people enjoying cake until early hours," says Vailoces. "I want Jennivee's to be inviting, which is why we are open late and BYOB."
The cake shop is as whimsical as the confections in the display case. Large floor-to-ceiling windows, damask wallpaper, an exposed brick wall, gilded shabby-chic furniture and a fanciful unicorn wedding cake all create an inviting, playful space to tuck into a generous slice of cake with a friend.
And that's the point.
Vailoces, who identifies as transgender, was partly inspired by bakeries denying LGBT customers wedding cakes as she planned to open her own bakery. Just look to the trans pride and rainbow flags hanging in the windows, or the prominent signage declaring "love is love" on the front door of the shop to understand that Vailoces takes pride in her community and location, just blocks from the heart of Boystown. "It's sad and unfortunate people want to deny services to our community, but I welcome everyone of any orientation, faith, ethnicity. I'm always so honored to bake a cake for a gay wedding," she says. Vailoces' work goes beyond baking cakes. As a trans woman of color, she hopes to fight the stigmas surrounding the transgender community. "There are a lot of negative stereotypes about us," she says. "We're associated with being sex workers, while trans youth are being disowned by their families all the time. Trans kids lack access to home or shelter, opportunities for better employment and education. It's heartbreaking." Vailoces is connecting with the Center on Halsted's Silver Fork program to potentially provide culinary training or internships for LGBT young people looking for employment in the culinary industry. She is also hoping to hire employees through Transworks, an organization that helps disenfranchised young people and trans individuals with job services and housing. "I want to help in any way that I can. I would like to show trans kids that there are trans leaders who are hustling and following their dreams, that we can succeed." Just a month after June's Pride parade, Vailoces recalls lines out the door, with customers clamoring for the sky-high, seven-layer rainbow cakes. "It was a party, totally packed," she says. "The LGBT community is so supportive. So many people showed up so we turned up the music and danced." "I've always wanted to own a nice little gay bakery, something LGBT people can call their own." Jennivee's Bakery, 3301 N. Sheffield Ave.