Last post I mentioned a project that had been swirling around in my brain for awhile, and recently I decided to make a little progress on it. My ideas really boiled down to one simple yet extremely complex question:
What does food mean to people?
Some might think of food as necessary nourishment, and nothing more. I certainly know a fair amount of people like that. But for people across the globe, the presence of food in their existence is more than just a means to stay alive. It's a means to thrive.
From my humble beginnings, my relationship with food has gone in so many different directions it has been hard to keep up. I think it has always been an emotional part of my life, a means to nourish my body and creativity. I know that I always found a sense of comfort in it, and a sense of calm in the creation of it. Because of this, I began to wonder how other people related to food. How did it shape them as individuals? If they had a passion for it, where/ when was that flame lit?
I decided I would come up with a few questions to ask some of the people I've met in the SF/ Bay Area, just to get a feel for their unique stories. I'll post them here as I go, and I'm excited to learn more about these individuals!
The first person that I interviewed was Natalie of Natty Cakes, an up-and-coming a Bay Area business I'm currently working for. Originally from Santa Rosa, Natalie moved to Berkeley a few years back and launched her business marketing treats with comforting, yet decadent air. Her specialties include her well-known cookie sandwiches, with come in both regular and gluten-free varieties, her cupcakes, and her cinnamon rolls, but there are always new things on her agenda (especially with each coming season).
Where did you see your relationship with food beginning? For instance, was it something that was instilled in you from a young age or a passion you discovered later?
From a young age I was always in the kitchen. Whether it was with my mom, grandparent or dad, I was always trying to help. I wouldn't say those around me had a passion for food, but rather saw it as a necessity and found some enjoyment in it. It wasn't until I took a culinary class in high school that I discovered how interesting it really was and how much I loved to cook and bake. I found love in the little things, like chopping ingredients, using a mixer, decorating and of course, eating my creations. It is definitely a passion that grew over time.
How would you describe its role in your life?
Baking and cooking have been in my life as far back as my first memory, it is something that I never questioned. My passion for baking has been the most consistent thing in my life, it frustrates me more than anything else can, and brings me more joy than anything else. Baking is not something that comes natural to me, I am constantly making mistakes and trying to figure out where I went wrong and how I can correct it.
What's your favorite thing about food? Why do you think it has such as impact on you? ( This could be positive or negative)
I very much enjoy the anticipation and excitement that food brings. When baking, I love the process of mixing ingredients, forming into an edible shape, baking and decorating because it is all building up to the moment of it being consumed. Either it will be loved or it will be something that can be improved upon, but either way there will be some excitement surrounding it. When I wake up in the morning, I think of what my first meal will be, when I eat lunch, I plan dinner and while eating dinner I think about dessert. The anticipation and joy that food brings is a hard thing to compete with for me.
How did you find yourself working in the food industry? Why were you drawn to that particular aspect of said industry?
After I took a couple culinary classes, one of the last lessons we had was how to decorate a cake, and from there I started to look for work doing just that. I had a friend that was working at Oliver's in the bakery department and she took a lot of pride in what she did. I found myself fantasizing about becoming a cake decorator there; so I got my work permit at 15.5 years old and applied for the cake prepper position. I was drawn to cake decorating because while it was a job that often received a lot of recognition, I knew it was something I would have to work really hard at, it would be something I would have to practice over and over until I finally produced something I was proud of. It took years until it felt natural, but it never seemed monotonous, that is how I knew I could do this the rest of my life.
What did you hope you gain from your career in food? What are your aspirations?
I hope to have a bakery that is warm and inviting, but never predictable. While many bakeries have that "wow" factor (i.e. unimaginable concoctions, impeccable displays, etc) I have never seen my self opening a bakery with this element. In order to survive in that industry, you have to prove that you are better than the best, and to be honest, I have never been a competitive person. I would much rather collaborate with another bakery rather than try to beat their sales.
With that being said, I want a bakery that has feel-good baked items that are comforting and delicious while still being up to date and excitable. I want a bakery that can withstand all the fad diets and trendy treats. More than that I want to, in a small way, make a difference. If there is a way for me to show younger generations how to bake simply, with great ingredients and the way grandma used to do it, I would feel accomplished.
How would you describe your experience growing up in the Western food culture? How would you say it affected you?
I think in a lot of ways, I have seen how wasteful we can be. When you think about how much we deep fry, and cover in butter or cheese, it is pretty disgusting. But at the same time, some of those "cooking methods" have created some of my favorite meals. While I wish that obesity weren't such a problem, I feel that our society has to take something, such as food, to a level above and beyond where it needs to go, in order to see where that line is. Our society tests the boundaries, and while that is often looked down upon, I think it is a very natural thing to do, so it is hard for me to be ashamed of the Western World for doing so.
From those boundaries being pushed, I have learned the importance of being choosey about my recipes and ingredients. I have also seen the importance of looking at other cultures to draw inspiration from. While I love a twinkie as much as the next person, there is some so elegant and dainty about a french macaroon, that far surpasses my love for a cream filled cake. This is how I came up with a cookie sandwich. While oreos and ice cream sandwiches have been around for decades, never before had there been a chewy chocolate chip cookie with a buttercream filling. It essentially has the same shape and idea of a macaroon, but is much more substantial and, to me, more comforting. It may seem over the top and excessive, but isn't that was America is all about? ;)
Would you describe food as a social aspect of your life or something to be enjoyed singularly?
Food is definitely a social affair to me. I would have never been allowed to bake had there not been an occasion, I would have never learned to grill a steak without a planned dinner. Cooking and baking is a passion, that is for sure but it is a realistic career because everyone needs to eat, and why not feed others with something you created and are proud of?
Thanks to Natalie for giving me a little taste of what food means to her!