Lacy O’Connor — The Sweet Life
Lacy (McDougal) O’Connor, ’12, is used to early mornings. She arrives at Josephine, a fine-dining Pennsylvania Dutch-inspired restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, at 6:00 a.m. Putting on her chef ’s apron, she gets started on preparing pastries and desserts for the day. For Lacy, it’s treasured memories that inspired her to develop and grow a skillset in baking — eventually becoming a pastry chef. She remembers the countless hours she spent in the kitchen growing up.
“I grew up baking with my mom and gram. My mom was the person who taught me how to bake. I have a lot of fond memories in the kitchen, including baking and cooking with my gram. It was always a part of what I did with my family,” said Lacy.
Originally from Canada, Lacy moved to Florida to attend Southeastern. Her interest in the school piqued after seeing the focus on music and attending a Fire Fall event. She quickly became involved with the music group on campus. “My experience at Southeastern changed my life. The people who I met there are still some of my closest friends. I still try to connect with professors.”
In her senior year of college, Lacy started to look for career ideas since she was still uncertain of what she wanted to do with her degree in practical ministries.
A Rekindled Love for Baking
With fond memories of baking and with graduation quickly approaching, she started exploring culinary schools. A few weeks before graduation, Lacy was accepted into Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago, Illinois. Although Le Cordon Bleu extension sites recently closed down in the U.S., the renowned cooking school was affiliated with the French school where Julia Child studied.
“This degree was so hands-on. I was exhausted from being on my feet,” she said.
Lacy earned an associate’s degree in baking and pastry arts. For a year and a half, she attended classes in person, before heading to Nashville for a three-month internship at the Hermitage Hotel, an upscale hotel located across the street from the Legislative Plaza and Tennessee Museum.
“It was a jump into the industry. I did a lot of baking for dinner service and turndown service. It was a great experience because I had my hands in everything, and it was fast-paced.”
She would arrive at work as early as 5:00 a.m. and work until 2:00 p.m. During her shift, Lacy would bake everything from breakfast meals to plated desserts for the evening. She made muffins, croissants, coconut cake, homemade ice cream, and granola.“I don’t think I ever worked so hard. I used so much of my energy just trying to keep up with the pace. It taught me about efficiency. I felt like the hotel was a great first experience,” she added.
After her second year at the hotel, one of the pastry chefs she had previously worked under went to work at Josephine, and she was looking for an assistant. Lacy applied for the position and has been working there for the past four years. With a Pennsylvania-Dutch influence, the restaurant specializes in what Lacy describes as “soul and comfort food.”
One of their specialty desserts is their cobbler. Depending on the season, they offer a variety of fruits in the cobbler from apples in the fall to peaches in the summer. Lacy plays a part in making everything from hand-spun ice cream to fresh pie dough for cobblers. In addition to desserts, she also helps make pretzel bread. Another one of their popular desserts is three chocolate chip cookies topped with homemade ice cream.
“One of my favorite things is ice cream. I love the whole process. We can play around with flavors and really experiment with it once we have a base recipe.”
An average day for Lacy starts at 6:00 a.m. and ends at 3:00 p.m. She begins by preparing desserts and breads for the day. There are only two pastry chefs at the restaurant, so they work to make sure everything is prepared at the beginning of the week for the rest of the week. “I usually go in and look at what we need from the night before. I do the production shift,” said Lacy.
One thing Lacy has learned is that being a pastry chef is physically demanding. “I started stretching before I go to work. It’s so much more labor-intensive if I am not aware of what I am doing.”
A highlight of her job is being able to see how much people enjoy the desserts and pastries she makes.
“It’s just so fun to make baked goods and pastries for people who don’t necessarily bake. Everyone will cook to some extent, but not everybody bakes or has an interest in baking. It’s just fun to present a dish to someone and they are excited about it. It really is rewarding,” said Lacy.
Orchards and Future Plans
In the fall of 2019, Lacy decided to start working only four days a week to make time for her music. She recorded her first EP, “Orchards,” in the summer of 2018 and released the first single in January of 2019. “This first project was a lot of worship music. It’s a lot about my relationship with the Lord. It’s really special to me.”
With the release of her EP, Lacy has been able to tour around the country and looks to continue to pursue music in addition to working as a pastry chef. In the future, she would like to open a coffee shop as a ministry using her skillset in baking and her practical ministry degree. She hopes the coffee shop will be an outreach opportunity for people who might not normally attend a church. She also plans to incorporate a space for local artists to play their music.
“I see the coffee shop as a way to do ministry. I want to be able to build relationships and build community,” she said.
For now, Lacy is enjoying the season that she is in and has been able to meet a lot of supportive people through her time at Josephine.
Outside of the kitchen, Lacy enjoys gardening and learning how to care for houseplants, in addition to reading and traveling with her husband, Kevan. Lacy met Kevan on a blind date at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, while she was studying at Le Cordon Bleu. They were married in June of 2015.