by Susan Josephs
When Paula Shoyer tried to sell her first cookbook, she “was told ‘no’ by every major publishing company. But I was doing something I loved so I just kept going,” she recalls.
Determined to succeed, Shoyer persisted in finding a publisher for The Kosher Baker, which featured over 160 non-dairy dessert recipes and became a staple of countless kosher households. Since then, the now 50-year-old former attorney, turned French pastry chef and kosher culinary innovator, has published two more cookbooks including this year’s The New Passover Menu. She has appeared on the Food Network’s Sweet Genius and other television shows and has “schlepped” cooking equipment across North America to share her passion for baking through classes and demonstrations.
“I call what I’m doing a revolution because I’m getting both kosher restaurants and home chefs to rethink their desserts,” says Shoyer, who recognized “a gap” in the kosher culinary world. “I saw how you could now eat these spectacular meals in kosher restaurants but then you get to dessert and it’s the same chocolate molten cake.”
Inspired by her travels in Europe and Asia, Shoyer spends her days inventing recipes, penning articles as a prolific freelance writer, consulting for food companies and developing her new line of frozen babkas. “I’m always open to different directions and I’m blessed with an incredible amount of energy,” she says of her success.
“I’m always open to different directions and I’m blessed with an incredible amount of energy.”
Raised in Long Beach, N.Y., Shoyer grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community and loved visiting her grandmother in Brooklyn, who created “from memory an amazing sponge cake, brownies, rugelach and rice pudding. I’d watch her bake and taste things,” she recalls.
Though she always loved desserts, Shoyer found her calling as a pastry maven “by accident.” Briefly a pre-med major at Brandeis University, she earned a degree in politics, attended law school at American University and worked for several years in environmental and insurance litigation in Washington, D.C. “Being a lawyer was helpful for my future career because it taught me what my strengths are and when I needed to hire experts to assist me,” she observes.
While living in Geneva, Switzerland, where her husband had a diplomatic posting, Shoyer initially worked part-time as a legal advisor for the organization UN Watch. Then, deciding to take advantage of living in Europe, she enrolled at the École Ritz Escoffier cooking school in Paris. She trained as a pastry chef “for fun,” but when she returned to Geneva, “I wound up with a catering business,” she says of baking cakes for people’s dinner parties and teaching cooking classes organized by a local synagogue.
When Shoyer returned to the United States, she also discovered she had a gift for writing when kosher chef Susie Fishbein hired her as a cookbook editor. “Doing those books for Susie made me realize that I had all these recipes for my own book,” she says. “It was a wake-up call.”
Married to Andy Shoyer and the mother of Emily, 20, Sam, 18, and 15-year-old twins, Jake and Joey, Shoyer feels gratified that “all my children know how to cook and bake and I think they’ve enjoyed watching me create something from nothing.” She also makes it a priority to mentor young aspiring chefs who want to break into the food business and remains devoted to her core audience. “Nothing is as fun as standing in front of a 100 women at a synagogue sharing inspirational stories about food,” she says. “It’s what I’m meant to be doing.”