Nightlife Legend Justine D. Goes From Parties to Pastries

Justine D. and a chocolate project inspired by Pee Wee Herman
Justine D. and a chocolate project inspired by Pee Wee Herman Photo: Courtesy of Justine D.

It’s been a while since D.J.-promoter Justine Delaney (a.k.a. Justine D.) threw a “Motherfucker” party, but rest assured that after a decade in nightlife, she’s still on the scene. Among other things, she’s one of the music bookers for (Le) Poisson Rouge, or LPR as the cool kids call it. At the end of the month, however, she’ll graduate from the French Culinary lnstitute. She’s been balancing that along with an internship at a wedding-cake studio, and eventually she hopes to open a rock-and-roll sweets shop and dessert bar (she’s in the process of putting a business proposal together). You’ll get your first chance to try her creations on August 14, when she’ll set up a sweets stand at an outdoor venue to be determined (she’ll be part of a Wurst Records showcase). In the meantime, we sat down with her at a favorite spot, Once Upon A Tart, to see how culinary school has been treating her.

As you near graduation, have you considered becoming a pastry chef at a restaurant?
I’m not opposed to it, because it’s good experience and it’s a real test of strength, but it’s not like I really want to be a pastry chef in some high-pressure kitchen. But that’s the thing — it’s like, what’s the next step? I could take a job at a chocolate shop that pays $8 an hour, I could continue to intern at a wedding-cake studio for free — and I’d like to stay in music. A pastry chef warned me before going into this, “you know, starting salary in this business is $12 an hour,” and I haven’t made that since I was eighteen or nineteen and now I’m finding out it’s actually less than $12 an hour. [Laughs]

Any truth to the tales you hear in culinary school true — about sadistic instructors and the like?
It’s totally not like that in pastry. We were talking about the culinary students and one of our head pastry chefs said, “I’d just like to say that pastry attracts a very intellectual type of student body. Culinary? They are heathens!” There’s no hazing in pastry. It’s a much calmer environment and it seems like it’s a bit more adult. Half of the people in my class are people in their thirties or early forties who are going through a career change.

What’s the main difference between someone who goes into pastry and culinary?
I’ve noticed that the pastry students (and I fit right in) are all type A. I’ve never been in a working environment where every person is like me.

So leaving restaurant work aside, are you and your classmates excited about the opportunities that the new trends toward mobile vending and flea markets present?
I don’t know if a lot of my classmates fully comprehend how many different non-traditional opportunities are out there, but because I’m tapped in with all the people involved in the flea markets and even friends throwing outdoor summer parties, I’ve already been asked to have a sweets stand. I’m pretty old-fashioned in that I intend on having a storefront, but doing the fleas and parties is another form of getting your name out there.

What do you plan to sell when you do start?
It depends on the season. I gravitate toward things that are really comforting. I’m not crazy about the whole cupcake thing, but I really like cookies, tarts, pies, and cakes.

Do you have one specialty in particular?
Not yet, but I plan on incorporating music into my baking business model because I have such a long background in music.

You’re not intimidated by all of the red tape small-business owners seem to face these days?
It’s totally frightening. But there’s just something about a space where you can walk in and the owner completely dictates the atmosphere and environment. I like a tangible space where you’re standing in it and you can sit down and soak up all the music being played. It’s a little hard to achieve that with a treats truck.

The worlds of nightlife and restaurants seem to be merging more than ever these days, as closing times get earlier and you increasingly need to serve food to score a liquor license. Is that frustrating to someone who makes their money in nightlife or is it something you’ve embraced as you get older?
The day when I had my pick of ten to twelve nightclubs to do parties are over. I can’t even give you more than five clubs right now. For the past eight to ten years, the city has really been fighting against nightlife. It’s changed to where I feel as if I don’t have too many options right now in terms of where I’d like to work [as a DJ-promoter]. One place I went to that I was really shocked because it had a nightlife scene was Momofuku Milk Bar— I went there for the first time last summer. I went pretty late and it was packed with guys with button-down shirts looking to meet girls. When I open up my own place (I want to open up a bakery during the day and a dessert bar at night), I don’t want it to feel like a club just because I come from a background of drinking. One of the things I really enjoy about eating desserts and having something like high tea is that I go in and I fully focus on the food.

What are some bakeries you admire? Who has been an inspiration to you?
I really like Clinton Street Baking Co. and I really enjoy City Bakery. Their pretzel croissant is the most amazing croissant I’ve ever had. I can’t help but be a big fan of Martha Stewart because she’s such a fascinating icon and she promotes things that evoke a warm feeling (like food and home), but it seems like she’s not the friendliest person. I like that the woman is a complete walking contradiction. I’ve been told I’m the same thing.

Last question: Have you been to the Limelight Marketplace yet to try the cupcakes and whoopie pies?
Ugh! It makes me cringe. I’m so upset, I don’t think I can go in there. The last party I did in that space was the Cramps’ last New York show before Lux Interior died. I started going to Limelight when I was 15 years old, in 1991 or ‘92, and it’s very upsetting. I’ve seen some of the best shows I’ve seen in my life there. To think that I can walk in and maybe get a bottle of wine and a pashmina scarf is kind of disorienting. I don’t think I’ll be frequenting it!

Nightlife Legend Justine D. Goes From Parties to Pastries