Jasmine Cho is the kind of person who faces injustices head-on. In response to racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, she painted a series of portraits … you can eat.
Founder of the Pittsburgh-based Yummyholic bakery, Cho uses her self-taught culinary skills to shine a light on populations that are misrepresented or underrepresented by the mainstream media. Activists, actors, athletes and others all become food for thought.
It’s a sweet, yet disruptive, form of protest.
The Los Angeles native started baking when she was in high school. Combining ordinary ingredients into a delicious dessert seemed like a magic trick.
The hobby, however, took a backseat to higher learning when Cho went on to study education at Duquesne University. Although her career took her across the U.S., she returned to the Steel City in 2009 and joined Public Allies Pittsburgh, an AmeriCorps program that supports diverse leaders who seek to bring out the best in their communities.
That got her thinking about the assets she could combine like ingredients — a passion for pastries and social justice.
Cho created Yummyholic in 2012 as a foodie apparel company, but was inspired by the career of chef Joanne Chang, the Asian-American founder of Flour Bakery + Café in Boston. In 2015 she relaunched Yummyholic as an online bakery. She then began baking cookies for different causes and clients, such as the nonprofit Center for Asian American Media, and donating photorealistic treats to local organizations such as Beverly’s Birthdays.
In 2016, her first sugary portrait masterpiece of a friend went viral.
“If people are going to pay attention to my cookies, what else do I want them to pay attention to?” Cho asks.
The world started to take notice of Cho, who was featured on CBS and NPR. She gave a TEDx talk and won Food Network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge.”
Cho is initiating important conversations, which happen in between bites.
Each detailed dessert can take up to six hours across two days to make. They’re currently available in classic vanilla bean and chocolate, but she’s slowly bringing back signature flavors like matcha, black sesame and taro.
It’s a tasty, yet time-consuming, labor of love.
“That’s my motto: They taste as amazing as they look,” says Cho, who bakes at Fulton Commons in Manchester. “I know one often gets sacrificed for the other, but I’ve had my nose in baking books since high school and I’m always testing things that lead me to a really good sugar cookie base that I can manipulate.”
While pursuing her master’s degree in art therapy from New York’s Pratt Institute, Cho is getting a hands-on education at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where cookie decorating is a form of healing.
Her dream is to open a brick-and-mortar bakery where she can offer research-based, therapeutic baking sessions.
Although her availability is limited, Cho takes cookie orders in between workshops and speaking engagements, where she tells her story within the larger context of Asian-American history. While some customers choose to snack on the portraits, others shellac them to frame or hang on the Christmas tree.
Cho doesn’t care if the cookie canvases are consumed immediately or preserved for all time, as long as they spark a conversation.
“My only hope is that they will pause. That’s’ my main mission,” she says. “We are inundated with so much media all the time and if cookie art makes them stop, it can keep them there to learn.”