Like the rest of the country, New Yorkers have turned to baking as a balm while we shelter in place (good luck finding certain basic ingredients at your local market, however). But for one therapist, the act of turning flour, butter and eggs into a cake or cobbler is as healing as paying a professional to listen to you talk.
Long before Jack Hazan became a licensed therapist in Manhattan, he was a talented baker. While studying at New York University, he started his business Jack Bakes in 2016 to sell challah, which he spent countless hours perfecting alongside his grandmother while growing up in a Syrian Jewish family in Brooklyn. His pillowy, pull-apart bread landed on the shelves of Dean & DeLuca early on and today, it’s sold at Fairway markets across the city as well as on FreshDirect.
But Hazan’s passion in the kitchen eventually became a part of his therapy practice nearly two years ago. He saw similarities between baking and psychology: it helps connect you with others, there’s a focus on the individual, mindfulness is a recurring theme and he says a range of emotions can come to the forefront while kneading dough or frosting the cake. He also has a project dubbed “Kneading Help” that he’s pitched as a book focused on baking as therapy.
“For me, it’s like a meditation you do in the kitchen,” Hazan shares with Time Out New York. “With baking, I think there’s something centering about it. There’s a commitment to focusing and being present with what you’re doing.”
For Hazan’s patients—he offers sessions for individuals, couples and groups, which can start at $250 an hour and may launch a Zoom meeting—the kitchen serves as the backdrop. He recalls walking one man through a banana cream pie recipe to work through anger management. As they pulverized the graham crackers for the crust and finished the project with whipped cream, among the questions the two explored: “Can you accept that this may or may not come out perfect? Can you just accept that sometimes things just happen—to let go and release without judgement or shame?”
The 33-year-old East Village resident says it’s not surprising that so many people today have turned to baking projects at home. He adds, “We’re experiencing grief and loss right now. We can’t connect the way we used to, and this is one way we’re connecting with people.”
While Hazan is focused on this therapy practice these days, his Brooklyn-based company continues to grow (his challah and challah bagels are available in 50 stores in New York and across the Mid Atlantic region with a babka set to launch in the fall). Still, he finds time to use his oven on almost a daily basis (last week he finished an apple cobbler in between appointments).
“What I love about baking is that you can share it,” says Hazan. “It’s not like, ‘Let me share with you this chicken marsala.’”