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You might know Keri Jordan-Leander from her baking at Kahve or her Abstract Tart stand at local food festivals. She also wrote for W42ST on Juneteenth last year about what she had learned about racism from her cop father and tortured grandfather. During COVID she’s got a new job (in the accounts department at Levain Bakery) and at weekends is facilitating fun virtual cooking classes, connecting folks from as far away as Ohio and Australia to her Hell’s Kitchen kitchen. Here’s her West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I am a transplant from Philly, but I have grown deep roots in NY (specifically Hell’s Kitchen). May makes my 15th year here!
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
I moved to NYC for a job. While I relentlessly searched for an apartment all over the city back then, I knew HK was going to be my home. It was convenient, lively and felt comfortable!
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
The aesthetic of HK is SO iconically NYC and beautiful to me, but the residents are what really make the neighborhood!
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
Historically, the massive amount of tourists in the neighborhood used to irritate me…but now, you know — COVID.
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time?
I actually stayed put, EXCEPT my wife and I moved to a new apartment (still in the neighborhood, of course).
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
Pre-COVID, I was happily running my little baking company in my spare time, vending at street fairs and acting as the resident baker at Kahve during the summer of 2019. In the midst of COVID, I decided to pivot and have been hosting virtual cooking classes on the weekends. The classes have provided a sense of community and connectedness, not to mention, they’re so much fun!
For my day job, I was an Accounts Payable Manager. Now, I am an Accounting Operations Manager for an iconic NYC Bakery, Levain (coincidentally).
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
What I’ve learned is that our city (and neighborhood) still has a pulse, remains vibrant and tenacious, despite being shut down! The energy in the city was INCREDIBLE when Biden/Harris were announced as having won the election.
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
Connecting (virtually) with friends and family more often has been a COMPLETE life saver during the pandemic. These connections continue to lift my spirit and remain hopeful on a daily basis.
What’s the most serendipitous (random/obscure/ insane) experience that’s happened to you in Hell’s Kitchen?
About two or three years after moving to HK (and after realizing there was a Food Emporium on 42nd-43rd Street), I decided to pop in there to take a look around. As SOON as I stepped foot in there, who do I see but Phylicia Rashad! Alone! I was so stunned, I stopped dead in my tracks and waved, like I was still 10 years old, watching The Cosby Show.
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
My closest brush with fame and “celebrity” would probably be that I was asked by Tarik Trotter (lead MC of The Roots, the house band on The Jimmy Fallon Show) and his wife Michelle to bake holiday desserts for the teachers at their daughter’s school. It was nice they thought of me to fulfill that order!
What’s your superpower?
I have to say my “superpower” is that I am pretty intuitive… sometimes to a fault.
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
Hmmm…I know my limits. Singing is NOT my forte!
Which people inspire you the most?
People who are ambitious, have endured difficulties, but still strive relentlessly to achieve their goals are my tribe. Those people inspire me more than I can explain!
I was also lucky enough to have grown up with my great grandmother sharing stories about her life: being born in the 1890s, migrating from South Carolina to Philadelphia, and becoming a nurse. I was privileged to hear about her strength and tenacity over the years, until she passed away at the ripe age of 105.
What’s your favorite quote or saying?
When people show you who they are, believe them!
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
I love Times Square very, very early in the morning, when it’s still and quiet, without crowds. It can’t be disputed that area is known worldwide, but to me, it’s most beautiful without swarms of people.
Do you love Hudson Yards? Why, or why not?
I don’t know if I LOVE Hudson Yards. I used to live on 37th between 9th & 10th and remember when that area was completely desolate. Hudson Yards provided a facelift to the area. I appreciate the amenities it offers the neighborhood (a mall, new Whole Foods, and entertainment/movies near the Vessel in the summer).
If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
I would bring back the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival. I truly missed attending the event this past May.
Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
As mentioned, I have been facilitating virtual cooking classes for a nominal fee, which have been so much fun! It’s allowed participants to connect to others from a demographic other than their own (e.g.- Ohio, Florida, Massachusetts, and even Australia
Hell’s Kitchen Happy Places
Alvin Ailey Dance Theater (W55th & 9th Avenue). I LOVE walking by there and seeing all of the dancers’ energy!
Huascar & Co Bakeshop (W54th between 9/10th Ave). Who doesn’t LOVE amazing desserts?
Kahve (W51st St near 9th Avenue). Great coffee, Great service!
Little Pie Company (W43rd St between 9th/10th Ave). That business has been a staple in this neighborhood for years and inspires me!
The cluster of benches outside of Manhattan Plaza Apartments on W43rd Street.
I love seeing the residents and their dogs congregate, laugh, talk and enjoy each other’s company.