Joshua John Russell to JWU students: “You can break the rules as long as you learn how to do it right the first time.” | Photo: Peter Goldberg
“You can break the rules as long as you learn how to do it right the first time,” Joshua John Russell '01 told a packed auditorium at JWU’s Providence Campus.
Russell, a veteran of “Food Network Challenge” and “Last Cake Standing,” was referring to traditional piping techniques in this case, something he calls “a dying art,” but stresses this applicable to just about anything.
Russell originally came to JWU as a culinary student, but quickly realized his calling was in baking & pastry. (The meat cutting class the then-vegetarian had to suffer through also may have had an impact.)
That didn’t mean all the aspects of cake decorating came easily to him though. While prepping for a piping demonstration he explained to students how he became so confident with the piping bag despite his shakey hands (due to nerves).
“I would hang parchment paper on the walls in my apartment and would practice piping with toothpaste,” he said. “And not the good kind — we’re talking about the 99-cents-a-tube-kind.”
Russell fielded questions from the enthusiastic audience while crafting and creating edible ribbons and tortoise shell gelatin decorations.
“I started by making cakes for my friends,” Russell said when a student asked him how he gained recognition and launched a successful pastry career after graduation. “If it was your birthday you were getting a cake. And I was going to make whatever I wanted. And I just practiced and practiced, and eventually I got good enough that people were willing to pay me.”
Russell currently works for in2food, the exclusive US importer of Europe's ultra-premium chocolate brands, including Dobla, Chocovic, Pruvé and Unifine. He is also an instructor on Craftsy, teaching online cake decorating classes on topics like modern piping and fashion-inspired fondant. In addition to his appearances on the Food Network, Russell has been featured in a number of books and magazines, including Jezebel, Grace Ormonde, Atlanta Weddings, Life and Style, and more.
Russell was in Providence as the campus’ 176th Distinguished Visiting Chef (DVC). JWU Providence baking & pastry student Lacey Scherrer received a scholarship in Russell’s name.
Read about Russell and other alums’ experiences on food reality TV.
Joshua John demonstrating cake decorating for students (top), and posing with DVC scholarship recipient Lacey Scherrer (bottom). | Photos: Peter Goldberg