Jeremiah Duarte Bills
A Gifted Baker, Inspiring Ambassador, and Bridge to our Future.
My visit with Jeremiah and his family was such a rich experience and one I soon won’t forget. It wasn't just because I spent time talking with Jeremiah, I also was honored to get a glimpse of the things that have created the exceptional person he is today. The Duarte family home where Jeremiah spent many of his childhood days is a typical, warm Portuguese home. From a collection of family photographs given a prominent place in the house to family heirlooms lovingly displayed in a glass hutch, everything reflects a family-centered household. While there's no doubt this is a Portuguese family's home, the overall homestead also shows a place where its residents live as proud Portuguese-Americans. I learned that the Duarte family home sits on land originally purchased by Jeremiah’s great grandparents. It became a successful fruit farm business and, despite no longer being an operating fruit farm, remains at the center of the family’s heart.
It’s always an honor to witness a person revisiting childhood memories because you get to put pieces together about the person. In our tour of this lovely family’s home, I could see why Jeremiah’s appreciation for the connection between nature and our sustenance is so strong. Jeremiah comes from a long line of Portuguese people who worked hard with their hands to grow food. They were an asset to their community and negotiated successfully between their own Portuguese ways and the ways of the larger community. So, with that in mind, it’s easy to understand how Jeremiah came to be such a powerful ambassador for our Portuguese culture and why he has such an organic connection with the spectacular food he lovingly creates. And fortunately for us all, his baking talents give him a language that reaches across all cultures and speaks easily to everyone because we all speak “food appreciation”. This talent has led Jeremiah on an incredible journey which has taken many big twists and turns.
I asked Jeremiah what he considers to be the most amazing experience, so far, in his history as a baker. If you bet it’s his time on Great American Baking Show, you’d lose the same bet I lost. His favorite experience was in Tentugal, Portugal where he witnessed the art of baking the miracle convent dough. The opportunity was curated for him by the famous travel blogger, Nelson Carvalheiro, as part of a baking research trip. Jeremiah’s recollection of that magical trip quickly drew me into his vision as he explained how convent-created recipes are guarded by a historical group dating back for many years. He explained that is opportunity to tour the Carmelite nuns’ convent, named Nossa Senhora do Carmo, wasn’t something that happened easily. However, it sounds like it was more than worth the effort. Jeremiah elaborated that the famous Pastel de Tentugal originated in the 16th Century and described his experience of making them with the Carmelite nuns as almost other-worldly. He said, “Imagine making a circle with a small group of people in the middle of a room this size (referring to his grandparent’s living room) and everyone working together to slowly stretch a ball of dough so it eventually fills up the whole room. The feeling this process gave me was so amazing and I’ll never forget it.” Jeremiah intends on teaching the method of making these ancient delicacies in his future baking classes. As I expressed earlier, Jeremiah’s most profound gift is the ability to express himself from the heart in a way that invites others into his vision and leaves them wanting to experience what he’s describing. I can guarantee you I’ll be the first to sign up for the Pastel de Tentugal class!
Could any interview with Jeremiah be complete without asking him about his experience on the Great American Baking Show? Of course not. I asked him to share what it was like to be on the show and learned that it was as stressful for him as his time in The Juilliard School. He added, along with that stress, there was a lot of fun. I also asked if the American version was as friendly of an environment as the British one appeared to be. Jeremiah said that it is friendly and, in fact, as the competition goes on, competitors are supportive of each other and some become friends. A testimony to that is the Flour Hour podcast he and the show’s second season winner, Amanda Faber, co-host. He said the best part of the whole experience of being on the Great American Baking Show was the opportunity to showcase Portuguese sweets. When planning what to do for the show, he said, “I realized that, of course, I’ll bake Portuguese desserts; this is the perfect opportunity to share our amazing sweets.” Once again, Jeremiah proved his love for his Portuguese heritage by choosing to showcase Portuguese desserts. All roads in Jeremiah's journey lead back to his steadfast appreciation of his Portuguese heritage.
Talking with Jeremiah about being Portuguese is a conversation with as many layers as the famous Pastel de Tentugal. Jeremiah has many ways in which he expresses his love and appreciation for his Portuguese heritage. He gives huge credit to his maternal grandfather who taught him enough Portuguese to inspire him to learn the language as completely as possible. When I complimented his ability to speak our language so well, he humbly said he feels he has a long way to go and, in fact, is taking Portuguese language courses. In my opinion, if what happens with learning Portuguese follows the same recipe for all his other undertakings, Jeremiah will speak Portuguese as if it’s his first language. Jeremiah also gives a tremendous credit to the creative environment in which he was raised and says his need to creative comes from having two grandmothers who are artists. It must be a family trait to be humble about natural talent because the gracious grandmother I met the day of my visit spoke lovingly, and with obvious appreciation, of the accomplishments of those around her but never drew attention to her own beautiful artwork. She spoke with admiration of the wonderful things Jeremiah had done in his life and how much she appreciates his connection to his Portuguese roots. No doubt, the rest of us feel that way too.
It’s been my true honor to share the highlights of what I learned about, and from, Jeremiah. I believe it’s only a small percentage of the great things that are true of this amazing individual. Even as I refer to my notes, I realize I haven’t shared everything I learned from him during our conversation. But I know there will be future opportunities to share more about him as I’ll be taking his baking classes and of course, working with him as he continues to be an invaluable ambassador for Rooster Camisa and for our Portuguese culture. Thank you for your time, Jeremiah; até a próxima vez! Until next time.
Obrigado and many thanks from your friends at Rooster Camisa!