Jeremiah Duarte Bills
A Gifted Baker, Inspiring Ambassador, and Bridge to our Future.
It isn’t often that we meet that person with all the positive qualities we want to cultivate in ourselves and wish for our loved ones to have. So, if you’re fortunate enough to meet Jeremiah Duarte Bills, I’m sure you’ll agree he’s that person. I recently had the pleasure of spending time talking with him and now have the honor of sharing the highlights of that visit here with you. It didn’t take long into our conversation to convince me that our Portuguese culture’s future is in great hands when we have people like Jeremiah acting as a bridge between our culture’s beautiful past and its exciting future.
Jeremiah is a third generation Portuguese-American born and raised in the foothills of Northern California. His mother’s grandparents were born in Faial, Azores and immigrated into the foothills in the 1940s. When asked who or what created his deep appreciation for all things Portuguese, Jeremiah credits his maternal grandparents and his mother without missing a beat. He grew up surrounded by those loving grandparents as well as aunts, uncles and cousins. Although much of his childhood was spent in this idyllic setting, at age 13, he and his parents relocated to New York so that his father could follow his calling to become a minister. Jeremiah’s grandmother said, “It was so hard on us to see them go that they moved in August and we visited them in September.” But despite a three-year period living where he initially had no friends and no family other than his parents, Jeremiah did well and says his time there is what led him to become a musician. As you would expect of someone with Jeremiah’s ability for perfection, he later returned to New York to earn a masters’ degree from The Juilliard School. Ironically, much like the first time in New York sparked his passion to become a musician, his time in college there ignited his love of Portuguese dessert baking. He recalls, “I would be baking something Portuguese and my grandmother would be on the phone telling me exactly how to do it her way.” Baking became a way to stay connected to his Portuguese roots while away from home.
Although music was the focus of his life’s work for over 20 years, Jeremiah’s love for baking, and for his Portuguese culture, never diminished. Jeremiah enjoyed an extremely successful musical career as a flutist performing in several orchestras as well as touring and recording for Sony Classical with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Americas. Consistent with his character, Jeremiah’s career included teaching music in a way that helped others experience it in the same way he does. This resulted in many of his music students winning awards, holding principle positions in youth orchestras and going on to attend Ivy League schools.
I don’t think it’s possible to speak of Jeremiah’s talents and gifts without clarifying that all his accomplishments were second to his true gift: the gift of expressing himself from the heart in a way that leaves others wanting to experience what he’s describing. Whether he’s teaching others to bake or he’s showing the world incredible Portuguese desserts made with his favorite ingredients, (egg yolks, cinnamon and lemon) he speaks from the heart and therein lies where the real magic happens. Jeremiah’s heart contains a pure purpose from where he easily speaks when talking about his passion for baking, his love for his family and his deep appreciation for his Portuguese heritage.
I was fortunate enough to spend time talking with Jeremiah in his grandparent’s home with his mother and grandparents joining us. As conversation flowed from talk of childhood memories to plans of publishing his cookbook, I could see the generational lines fade away. I listened to Jeremiah ask his family for information on their early experiences as first and second-generation Portuguese and when processing that information along with his own experiences, it was like listening to a beautifully composed piece of music or tasting food prepared by loving hands. I witnessed something very special. In asking his grandparents and mother their recollection of a Portuguese tradition or about a family ritual relating to their Portuguese heritage, Jeremiah would take the information and eloquently explain why the tradition and practice shaped how he sees the world today.
Because Jeremiah connects so deeply with his love for the Portuguese culture, his inclusion of others in his vision of that culture is magical. He speaks from his heart of his heritage, of Portugal’s ancient sweets and of how profoundly impacted he was in learning the old ways of baking. In fact, he says that he’s only able to feel he’s accomplished perfect baking results when he’s learned a recipe through watching others do it. It makes perfect sense that Jeremiah wants to offer that same kind of learning experience to others and has opened his home kitchen to teach the baking of authentic Portuguese and Azorean pastry. If my experience in being drawn into Jeremiah’s magical vision of the Portuguese culture and its baking traditions happens for his baking students, his classes must be as beautiful as they are delicious. In addition to teaching pastry classes, Jeremiah also: co-hosts a very successful podcast with Amanda Faber who is the Great American Baking Show second season winner, sits on the board of the Sacramento Portuguese Historical and Cultural Society, is writing a Portuguese dessert cookbook and he’s one of our Rooster Camisa brand ambassadors!
Speaking of Rooster Camisa, it’s easy to see why Jeremiah matches so well with Rooster Camisa’s mission and why he makes a perfect brand ambassador. I asked Jeremiah what he believes his life’s purpose is given how many gifts he has. Without hesitation he answered that he wants to expand all the beautiful aspects of our Portuguese culture into the greater world. He hopes to help others to appreciate everything our culture has to offer and wants to make sure those things get passed on. This is exactly why he’s not only a perfect brand ambassador for Rooster Camisa, he’s the perfect ambassador of our Portuguese culture. He says that, based on his experience in visiting Portugal and the Azores, the Portuguese culture isn’t dying at all. In his opinion, its vibrancy is happening right now and is very much alive in Portugal, the Azores and Madeira. He said that we don’t need to save it from dying but instead, we need to share it here and allow it to grow as we pass our culture’s traditions on to future generations. Jeremiah’s belief is that we need to respectfully bring our culture from the place where it’s been protected and sheltered into a place where it’s appreciated and embraced by those unfamiliar with it. And we need to do this without apologizing for who we are. That’s Rooster Camisa’s mission too!
In Part Two of this blog series, I’ll talk about Jeremiah’s amazing experience in Tentugal, Portugal when making its famous pastry and how he plans on bringing that experience to his pastry classes; I’ll tell you what he shared about his experience on the Great American Baking Show and I’ll say more about Jeremiah’s love for our Portuguese culture.
Obrigado and many thanks from your friends at Rooster Camisa!