How I Work: A conversation with Mary Jayne Wilson, Executive Chef at Amélie’s

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If you live in Charlotte, you probably know what Amélie’s is (and hopefully, you’ve been inside one).

This eclectic French bakery has five Charlotte-area locations and one in Atlanta.

I’m a very frequent visitor of the Park Road spot, so meeting the mastermind behind Amélie’s creations for the last several years was quite the honor.

Meet Mary Jayne Wilson, Executive Chef.

Office location:

We do have an actual office that I spend a little bit of time in, but it’s typically traveling between the locations [Amélie’s]. I’ll spend the day in Rock Hill or half the day. I’m just sort of floating around.

Job Title:

Director of Operations and Executive Chef

Phone:

iPhone 6.

Workspace:

Computer:

iPad Pro with a keyboard. It travels well.

To-do list manager:

I have a really extensive planner that I use religiously.

Gadgets you can’t live without:

I hate to say it, but my phone. And anything in the kitchen. I actually have a little toaster oven that I’ve been using probably 90% of the time instead of using the big oven.

Apps you can’t live without:

Gmail is probably the most heavily used on my phone, but there’s a new one that I found called Youmail. You can record when somebody calls your phone, and it recognizes them by your contacts. It will say, “Good morning, whoever it is, sorry I missed you!” And people are like, how does your phone know who I am?

Social media habits:

Mostly Instagram. I haven’t really been on Facebook. I try to be very minimal with my time on there. But Instagram is really cool to see what trends are happening, see what other people are doing and it’s quick and easy.

Sleep routine:

I’m an early bird. I try to be in bed by 10 p.m.  and usually am up by 6 a.m. I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old.

Music at work?

I don’t typically listen to music at work because I’m sometimes in the kitchen, but I listen to WFAE in the car when I’m traveling in between. Or audiobooks or podcasts.

What’s your commute like and how do you pass the time?

My husband works at Birdsong. The daycare my girls are at is on The Plaza, so NoDa is typically the start of the day. I drive ten minutes to get into the NoDa area and drop the girls off. We [she and her husband] usually carpool since we’re close. I drop him off at Birdsong, then I go to whichever Amélie’s I’m at for the day.

How do you spend the first hour of your day, starting from when you wake up?

Always a little morning cuddle time with the girls. Since they’re still so young, sometimes getting everyone dressed and out the door is a challenge. But it’s usually feeding everybody, getting everybody dressed and starting the day.

What do you eat for breakfast?

A lot of eggs and toast. Breakfast burritos here and there.

What do you actually do? Walk us through a day in your life.

Every day is so different. So I oversee each of the managers of each location. I’m deeply involved with the kitchen managers as well as the GMs of each location. I work on menu development. We do seasonal menu changes, so I get to brainstorm, create the recipes, implement all the procedures, train everybody, photoshoots. I’m involved with some of the media and marketing that we do. I do repair maintenance. So every day really is different. It just depends on what’s going on, but it’s almost always in an Amélie’s.

What are some unusual habits you have and why do you have them?

Pretty much everything in my life revolves around food, so I’m constantly thinking what my next meal is gonna be.

What everyday thing are you really good at?

Making food. I love it. At home and in the professional setting.

Best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

It’s gotta be the planner. You can plan ahead, make goals. It keeps you organized. I can’t get on Google calendars. I need to write it down.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The people. I mean, I love the food, but we have amazing people that work at Amélie’s. It really is a hard business to run, and we have creative, inspiring people.

Where do you go around Charlotte to get away from the office?

Now that I have the kids, I don’t have as many opportunities. If I’m off work, I’d go to Birdsong. Sometimes I can sneak away and go to yoga.

What’s your favorite side project?

I love gardening. I make my own baby food. I think that’s something a lot of people don’t do anymore.

If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you be doing?

I would probably have my own business. I don’t know exactly what, whether it would be a bakery or a restaurant. At some point, I will probably do that.

What’s the best investment you’ve ever made?

Probably my house. That’s the biggest investment I’ve ever made financially. Time investment would be college. I went to Johnson & Wales.

What’s a purchase of less than $100 that’s most improved your work output or life?

Gotta be the planner again. It really makes a difference.

Other than the Agenda, what media brands do you consume?

WFAE.

Advice to your 30-year-old self?

I’m only 33, but that was right when I had my first daughter. So I think “nothing is forever.” Whether dealing with a newborn or opening a store, it’s not forever. Whether it’s wonderful and amazing, or it really sucks, it’s not forever.

Best job advice you’ve received:

Knowing that there are always other people that know more than you and to surround yourself with those people. Knowing that you don’t always know the answer. Try to stay humble and not think you know it all. Be open to your team.

Book you gift the most:

There’s one children’s book but it’s called “I Like You.” It lists all the reasons why I like you. As far as work, I like to balance a fiction and a nonfiction. There’s a look called Spontaneous Evolution, which I’ve given to a few people.

What’s one thing people don’t know about Charlotte that they should?

That it’s kind of still a small town. Especially in the culinary world. It’s grown rapidly. … But it’s still such a tight-knit community.

What other Charlottean would you like to answer these questions?

Vi Lyles, the mayor of Charlotte.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve created for Amélie’s?

The macarons. I did not create the original recipe for the cookies, but we’ve come up with hundreds of new flavors.

Is there anything else that we didn’t ask that you’d like to tell our readers?

Amélie’s really is authentic and genuine. We have a lot of people that care passionately. The cases have a lot of glamour to them, but it’s dirty work, and the people that do it work very, very hard to achieve what we have. We have a really great group of people here that are making really great food.

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Allie Papajohn
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Food & drink writer.