San Diego native Jessica Scott has been the pastry chef at hot taqueria and Mexican joint Puesto for nearly two years, crafting interesting desserts like Mexican chocolate and banana cheesecake tacos; frozen rum horchatas; and tres leches cake with café anglaise. After receiving the Jeune Professional Award from L’Académie de Gastronomie Brilllat-Savarin, Scott honed her skills in Denver, working for TAG and Crave before heading back to San Diego and working at other local spots like The Fishery. And she has won numerous awards and cooked at the James Beard House in New York. We chatted with Scott about her love of Martinis, always trying new cocktails and her guilty pleasure of a really well-made adult milkshake.
What do you like to drink when you get off work?
It really depends on what the day was like. If you’re having a really crazy day and you’re feeling that need for a drink, I’m going for a cocktail. I like to try out different places and see what’s new. I’m mostly a vodka drinker, so my favorite drink is a Martini, but I’m always trying new things.
I just tried a [batched] Negroni the other day at Cucina Sorella. I had never had one before, and I know they’re known for the gin, Campari and flamed orange, but this was batched with coffee and vanilla beans and red vermouth. It was a bright red drink but tasted like coffee. I was feeling kind of tired and was half craving coffee and a cocktail, and it didn’t say on the menu it had coffee, so it worked out.
El Mezcalito at Puesto (image: Carmelle Piña)
With Martinis, what’s your favorite vodka?
That also depends on the week. If I am playing it safe because I’ve been going out too much and want to save a couple of bucks, I’ll go with Ketel One. But if I want a nice night, I’ll go with the bartender’s choice. There are so many vodkas, but if I’m forced to choose, I’ll go with Chopin.
Do you usually drink at work or head out when you’re off?
I wish I could drink at work, but normally if I’m coming in for a drink at Puesto, I have to leave and then come back to keep things as separate as possible. It’s very professional here, and they want to have their managers stay managers. I did come to Puesto before I worked here, and they have a crazy drink called El Mezcalito, and I’d never had mezcal before. It has tamarind, guanabana and a smoky lime, tamarind flavor. I’ve had a million Margaritas, which is a great summer drink, but this is something new with more flavor that’s kind of surprising a bit more.
Jessica Scott (image: Carmelle Piña)
What are some local spots you like to hit for drinks when you’re off work?
I just moved into a new place in the Park West area near the zoo and Balboa Park. This new place Trust just opened. I go there for after-work drinks. It has amazing food and interesting drinks. It’s a little frustrating because they’re all named Trust Cocktail #1, #2, etc. I have to talk to the server to understand what I’m getting. I’m not really a gin drinker, but I’ll try anything. They have one with gin, apricot, lemon and cinnamon. It was so perfectly well-balanced—nothing overpowered. The apricot balanced with spices of gin and lemon freshened it all up. I was excited to have a new respect for gin.
I recently went to Herb & Wood, and it has a lot of interesting cocktails and girlie drinks, which I tend to stay away from. I can’t be part of a stereotype and know I’d be getting judged. It’s sometimes my guilty pleasure. There I have a nice Martini; they make it extra dirty.
Have you found any cocktails that inspire your cooking?
I can be inspired by all cocktails. I use liquor pretty often in my desserts. The way cocktails are built are all on the same flavor profile, especially when fruit is in involved, like strawberries with rosemary. That’s coming into play in dessert, using savory components. It’s nice to look at a cocktail menu when I’m doing my R&D for a pastry menu. Bartenders think of flavor combinations I want to try. I had a drink at Cucina Sorella with ginger, basil and chile. I’ve never used them all at the same time in a dessert, but they could blend into something cool and creative.
Margaritas at Puesto
Any summer ingredients that inspire your cocktailing?
Even though we have a lot of produce [in California], it’s still best to always stay seasonal. Even though we can get strawberries in winter, they’re at their best in summer. With cocktails, I like to add fruit flavors and herbs like thyme and apricot or lavender and lemon. I like to make sure it’s multidimensional and more of an experience that people haven’t had before.
What do you drink when traveling?
Anytime I’m traveling, I always try to go with what they’re serving and what they’re into. I was in Denver, which has a big beer scene, and I love craft beer. We went to an area in downtown Arvada that was an old-school house made into a bar. They had 1,000 different whiskeys. If they put one drop of every whiskey, it would fill a gallon. When I was there, I drank whiskey, and it was amazing. If you’re a knowledgeable bartender, I always go with what someone is passionate about.
What do you like to serve at a dinner party to kick things off?
Every good party starts with tequila! Maybe an añejo to sip on while I’m getting appetizers and little bites going. Tequila means it’s a party. I’m not refined enough to serve Champagne.
La Rosita at Puesto (image: Carmelle Piña)
What’s a go-to summer cocktail?
I definitely want something fresh. You can’t refuse a good Margarita. When I think of summer, I think of being on the beach and that whole feeling. Or a good beer—maybe not an IPA because it’s so heavy—or one of the Baja beers we have at Puesto. There’s a brewery 30 minutes south of Tijuana that supplies a lot of Baja beers. They have more personality than the San Diego beers while still having the craft vibe.
Is there a quintessential San Diego drink you like?
I was actually thinking about that the other day, and we’re really a big melting pot. At the moment, I think it’s the beer scene; I think we have the second most microbreweries in the nation. Or it’ll be how close we are to Mexico and people tend to eat Mexican food, which Puesto is a good call for. So probably a Margarita or something more farm-forward, like with fresh strawberries or mango.
Any guilty pleasures you like to drink when no one is looking?
If not a girlie drink where I’ll get judged, I’ll go fat kid and get an adult milkshake. But I make the best ones in town. It’s usually vanilla ice cream with chocolate liqueur, Kahlua and raspberries.