#SCBDExclusive: Interview with Abbey & Lindsay, Owners of Cake Couture NJ!

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Cake Couture NJ is a home-based custom cake company founded by two Jersey girls from my hometown of Howell, Lindsay Mauser and Abbey Lanz. Last time I was home I had the opportunity to interview them on the company, their cakes, and more!

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SCBD: How long have you been baking and cake decorating?

CCNJ: We’ve been baking as long as we can remember. We started getting into cake decorating by taking classes at Michael’s when they had them locally. Abbey received her degree in pastry from the Culinary Education Center of Monmouth County in 2011 where she performed in pastry competitions too. She’s always been more passionate about cakes rather than general pastry, you can see it in our work.

SCBD: Who came up with idea to start Cake Couture NJ?

CCNJ: We started making cakes for family about 4 years ago and then came up with the name and really started our business three years ago. When we first started it was Abbey and my (Lindsay’s) sister Erin but Erin wasn’t as passionate about it after a while so I stepped in and we’ve been successfully working together since. We feel that our cakes aren’t just any cakes so we felt that Cake Couture was the perfect name for us.

SCBD: What is special about your recipe compared to others?

CCNJ: Well, you can’t really compare us to any other cake or cupcake out there. We’re very creative and are constantly coming up with new recipes to try. We love coming up with new recipes for flavors we like.

SCBD: I’ve seen pictures of your cakes and the artwork looks so professional. How did you learn this?

CCNJ: We learned the most by doing it all the time and through trial and error. It’s all about finding the right temperature, etc.

21st birthday beer cake

21st birthday beer cake

SCBD: What’s a new flavors are you working on?

CCNJ: We are currently working on summer flavors, our latest creation is working on some summer cocktail cupcakes like margarita, and more!

SCBD: What’s the most popular cake flavor order you get?

CCNJ: Our vanilla with vanilla butter cream and red velvet with cream cheese frosting are our most popular.

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Cupcakes with faces of Aunt & Grandma

SCBD: What’s the most unique order you’ve had?

CCNJ: Our most unique order so far was for cupcakes with our client’s grandma & aunt’s faces on them. It took a lot of work but it was fun to do and rewarding at the end.

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21st birthday cake

SCBD: What was your first order? Who was it for?

CCNJ: Our first order was for a 21st birthday at a big banquet hall, we were pretty nervous but it was a success. The cake had pink quilted zebra print on it.

SCBD: What’s a quote you both live by?

CCNJ: “She who leaves a trail of glitter, is never forgotten.”

SCBD: What’s Cake Couture NJ‘s motto?

CCNJ: “Made with Love” which we always have on all of our orders and “Edible Art For Magical Moments”.

SCBD: Where do you see Cake Couture NJ in five years?

CCNJ: We have high hopes and would love to be doing bigger events and have it turn into our full time job. We are looking forward to having bigger orders and to be in demand in the tri-state area. We are  working with the Ronald McDonald house on their event in May and donating a cupcake tower to their silent auction on May 19.

SCBD: Last, what do you want SCBD readers to know about Cake Couture NJ?

CCNJ: Nothing is impossible for us, we are willing to take any order. We take our time with every order and are very critical of our cakes. We do consultations and tastings for cakes for any event.

Harry Potter cake

Harry Potter cake

Make sure you like Cake Couture NJon Facebook  follow them on Twitter @CakeCoutureNJ! I’m definitely looking forward to working with them more because they have such a great thing going!

Cheers– let’s eat cake!

Sara SCBD Logo Edited

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#SCBDExclusive Interview with Executive Pastry Chef & Playing with Fire star Julie Elkind!

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Two weeks ago, E! premiered a new show, Playing with Fire which is based on the lives of some of the heavy hitter’s in New York’s culinary scene such as Candice Kumai, Anna Boiardi, The Koch twins, and Julie Elkind. With her drive and motivation at the age of 26, in four years Julie became the Executive Pastry chef for the ESquared hospitality group and  just recently took on the position as the Executive Pastry Chef at Executive Chef/Partner  Michael Ferraro’s Delicatessen in SoHo (see her intro in the show in the clip above). I spoke with Julie and we discussed life, her path to success, favorite dessert to make, new position at Delicatessen, and of course, Playing with Fire.

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SCBD: You’ve been doing pastry for a while now, who influenced you to get into it?

JE: It’s been in my family ever since I can remember. I grew up around some really great home cooks, we’d always be working on different projects in the kitchen. It’s amazing to do pastry for a living. I never really feel like I’m working because it’s a labor of love.

SCBD: In the show, Playing with Fire we see that you are always out to prove yourself, did this start when you were back in school?

JE: I was always great at Science & English in school. Math was never my strong point until I was able to bring it into pastry and use it everyday. I always felt like I had to prove to my parents that I could do well since they set such a high bar for me. The most important for me to prove something to is also myself. I am always challenging myself with new concept and ideas that the mainstream may not accept right away. I’m still always learning everyday and feel even as a veteran being in the industry thus far I still have to prove myself in the kitchen. I also think its important that people in the industry listen to the next generation of chefs and our ideas.

SCBD: Where did you go to school for pastry?

JE: I attended the Culinary Academy of New York which is now the Star Career Academy of New York. During my time there I learned a lot of basics and everything to prepare for my hands-on experience in the kitchen.

SCBD: When you started did you ever imagine you’d come this far?

JE: I believe when you start doing anything you love you want to come far and I always wanted to be a successful pastry chef. I never imagined the show would come about but I’m always making sure I am staying humble. In my opinion, staying humble is the key to the growing and creating process.

SCBD: What advice would you give to aspiring pastry chefs?

JE: Never rush yourself. A lot of my generation feel that they have this sense of entitlement that they will be a famous chef once they are out of school. It may look easy but it’s not, it requires time and must be a labor of love. They should be patient and keep creating their own ideas.

Also, I believe its important to never rush into a job that your not ready for. If you don’t think its meant for you, wait your turn and take a job when the time is right. That was some of the best advice someone gave me. Never be afraid to ask questions and never assume. Always use your commonsense especially in the kitchen. You gain your place and respect in the kitchen by hard work.

SCBD: At the young age of 26, you’ve gained so much success and recognition as a pastry chef and now with Playing with Fire. What advice do you have for millennials on the path to success?

JE: I am always giving my staff tough love as a manager but I always give them encouragement when they do something worth rewarding. I just want them to be able to teach other chefs what I taught them. Staying humble is key and you must believe in your own food or brand. Being a pastry chef is what I always wanted to do. I personally find success when customers are enjoying the food I create. I want my food to bring a sensory and memory connection to them that may not necessarily be a food trend. Any dish I make is something I am personally proud of and would not sell it if I wasn’t.

SCBD: On that note, congratulations on your new position as Executive Pastry Chef for Delicatessen in SoHo. What do you like most about the new position?

JE:  Executive Chef/Partner Michael Ferraro (Delicatessen) has the same style as me just on the savory end so it’s the perfect collaboration. It’s good to work with another chef that’s an equal because we work as a unit. When I took the job my instincts told me it was right and it’s been great to be respected by a fellow chef. It’s a great positive atmosphere because where I can grow.

SCBD: What is your favorite dessert to make at home? On the job?

JE: I love making ice cream and gelato because you can make tons of flavor combinations. I love coming up with new ideas, it’s the best part! I get butterflies when I change a menu because I am so proud and excited of my food. I am always checking to see what is in season by going to the local green market. I am alwayss painting a picture of a new dessert just by spotting a fruit or citrus I can use there. I love taking different flavor profiles on successful dishes rather than just using what worked before.

SCBD: Playing with Fire is really taking off, what should see expect to see from you this season? How does it feel to be part of this successful show?

JE: This season on Playing with Fire you will see what I did at the previous company I worked for to get where I am now. You will also see my constant balance between relationships, time in the kitchen, as well as my social life. You will see how it’s possible to have it all with the right people by your side. I believe you always have to keep pushing through even if you hit a speed bump. You will see how I handle bumps in the road but with strength and endurance I keep moving forward. You will get to know me personally and see some of my stressful moments at home and at work. New York City is a demanding city to live and work in. I don’t want to give too much away but you’ll have to tune in to find out more.

SCBD: Last, where do you see yourself in five years and what are some quotes you live by?

JE: If you asked me five years ago, I’d never imagine I’d be where I am now. I am constantly challenging myself and making sure I serve the best quality desserts. I’d love to work towards getting a James Beard award and being recognized by the James Beard Foundation for my work. I really aspire to be like the previous James Beard award winners who give back and leave a legacy, it’s a lifetime of work.

Since not everyday is the same, I just want to do great work and get recognized for it.

I actually have a few quotes I live by:

“Commonsense isn’t always common”, which I am always saying in the kitchen.

“Do what you love for nothing, and turn it into something”

“Never take a job for money or sell yourself short.”

“The only person who can judge you is yourself”

“Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid of anything.”

“Don’t knock it til you try it.”

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You can catch Julie on Playing with Fire on E! at 8PM EST on Friday nights. You can tweet her @JulieElkind & become a fan of her on Facebook, here. Don’t forget to follow Delicatessen @DeliNYC too!

Make sure you use #PlayingwithFire when you tune in! 😀

Sara SCBD Logo Edited

#SCBDExclusive Interview with Christina Aurrichio, Owner of Chi Flo

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This month, Christina Aurrichio, an FDU graduate like myself, launched an amazing new, up and coming fashion line, Chi Flo. The line is creative and unlike anything out there because of Christina’s passion and love for drawing and fashion. When I saw that she was launching the company and her premiere line, Grimm Street I had to get the 411 and have my readers get a first look because I see Chi Flo going places and you’ll probably want to buy your first shirt after you read this.

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Christina Aurrichio, Owner of Chi-Fl0
Photo Credit: Rob Roselli

SCBD: Thanks Christina for letting me interview you and give my readers the first scoop on your new line, Chi Flo. It’s great to see another peer and fellow Jersey Girl make their mark. Who or what inspired you to come up with Chi Flo?

CA: No problem Sara! Thanks for all the support and promoting, I’m very impressed by all you’ve accomplished as well. What inspired me to create Chi Flo was a mixture of things. I am very passionate about my artwork and always wondered how to properly display it. I also am very passionate about fashion and the whole city scene. You know—the girls in the city with a sketchpad  in their backpack, a cup of coffee in hand, and a keen sense of style…just trying to make it big. Chi Flo is all about the balance of my artwork, the fashion sense, and actual occurrences life occurrences. It also showcases my love for making light of bad situations. For instance, the BAD GIRLFRIEND shirt should be worn by girls with a sense of humor who have been maybe labeled as a Bad Girlfriend before, or just know how to joke about themselves. It’s just so much bigger than a t-shirt line for me, and I hope someday it catches on.

SCBD: How long have you been drawing for? What’s the best drawing you’ve made?

CA: I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid, maybe about 7. My big brothers and mother were always extremely creative and seeing them creating music/crafts/drawings made me want to do the same. I can remember looking at my Flinstones storybooks, loving the character Dino and just taking a piece of paper and drawing him. It was always an exciting challenge to get better at drawing every time I picked up a pencil. It still is an exciting challenge. I’ve never been classically trained in drawing. I think that says a lot as well.

My favorite drawing I drew would be the “Not Your Savior”.

SCBD: Chi Flo focuses on using original artwork, why do you think that’s crucial to any successful fashion line?

CA: I  think nowadays, every time you turn a corner someone is creating a new t-shirt line from scratch or a website that re-sells already made t-shirts the buyer purchased wholesale. Granted, I am supportive of anyone doing so. However, most of those people aren’t coming up with the designs themselves. They are either Google-imaging “skull and crossbones” or “graffiti letters” and just placing them on a shirt. Again, those people are smart and I support them. They may also sell faster because they sell shirts that are trendy with the times. But myself personally, I just couldn’t come up with another carbon-copy t-shirt line. I thought “I have the ability to create designs, why not use that to my full potential?” Plus, what’s better than wearing a shirt that no one else has? If I had a dollar for every shirt I see with an inverted cross, or a typical sugar skull, I wouldn’t have to hustle a t-shirt line!

SCBD: Chi Flo is not just a fashion line but it is also a lifestyle, what does that mean to you and your customers?

CA: When I say that Chi Flo is a lifestyle, I truly believe it is. Chi Flo sells shirts with meaning. For example, the “Not Your Savior” shirt is my favorite design because I drew it when I was going through a bad break-up. It was purely from my heart. To me, Chi Flo shirts are like listening to a good song. If you can relate to the lyrics, or in this case what the shirt says, then the design will jump out at you and mean so much more. Chi Flo is self-expression, but in a cute way!

SCBD: Your first line, The Grimm Street Collection is unlike any line I’ve seen. You’ve mentioned that every collection tells a story. What is the story behind The Grimm Street collection?

CA:The story behind the Grim Street collection is a blend of things. As I had mentioned earlier, I designed the Not Your Savior after a bad break-up. Literally, I couldn’t ‘save’ the other person and had to focus on myself. Next came the Bad Girlfriend. That was an “insult” thrown at me in retaliation. Why not wear it on my shirt then? After graduation and difficult situations, I started to find myself. I drew the Chief Flo as a representation of discovering who I was and my artistic ability. The Street Pigeon represents the cool-side to fashion and just feeling like a boss. Finally, the Smiths Tribute reads the words “Honey Pie, You’re Not Safe Here” . That’s my favorite line from a Smiths song. It represents power and rising to the top. Whoever was going to get in my way wouldn’t be “safe there”. That kind of thing.

Take a peek into The Grimm Street Collection (photos by Rob Roselli):

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NotYourSaviorNOTyourSaviorMenSmithsTributeSmithsTributeGirls

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SCBD: What shirt is your best seller?

CA: My best seller is the Street Pigeon! I think it is amazing how girls and guys both love the design. I give myself props for that.

SCBD: What’s your favorite shirt and why?

CA: My favorite is the Chief Flo because I truly think the design is beautiful. When I was drawing it on paper, I looked in the mirror so I could outline a face and hair (I was alone so I used myself as the face model). From there, I just drew everything else and made her a sugar skull. I think it’s great that people probably don’t know they’re wearing my face on their shirt!

SCBD: I ordered the Street Pigeon shirt and received it really quickly last week which was awesome. I loved the packaging and sticker that came with it. What separates Chi Flo from other designers out there? 

CA: Great to hear! I think what separates Chi Flo is the whole ‘hometown’ feel. I designed the shirts and everything. A good friend of mine, Rob Roselli, photographed the pictures. Another friend of mine modeled the pictures and more friends of mine will continue to model for me. I created Chi Flo strictly from what I know and love. I’m just not trying to be anyone else. The packaging ties in with the hometown feel because I wrap it myself and put in a thank you note signed personally by me.

SCBD: Chi Flo seems to be really taking off, where do you see Chi Flo in 5 years? 

CA: I hope it continues to take off. I need to constantly keep on top of the advertising and promotion. I stay humble and noticeably hopeful through it all. I have so much stock left still, but I knew I would. I took a big chance. Plus, it has only been two weeks since it’s launch date. I must continue to advertise and be creative. If I continue to do that, I hope Chi Flo will be sold in stores in 5 years. I’d also love to open a boutique with Chi Flo brand clothing. Let’s hope for the best.

SCBD: What are some goals you want to achieve with Chi Flo this year?

I’m so excited to continue to create more designs. The more I sell the Grim Street line, the more profit I can make, and the quicker I can come up with more shirts. I just really want people to love the shirts and recognize that I am an independent business owner and need to sell, sell, sell! I can’t wait to create hoodies for fall and cover-ups for summer. Stay tuned!

SCBD:  What’s one quote that motivates you everyday?

“Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better”

SCBD: Last, what’s one thing you’d like all the SCBD readers to know about Chi Flo?

CA: I’d like all the SCBD readers to know that anyone can rock Chi Flo and find the balance in their life. Chi Flo represents just that! Wear your heart on your sleeve and also wear art on your shirts. Self expression from deep within is SUPER important and don’t be afraid to be edgy. Stock is limited but there will be more as long as the sales go up! Chi Flo is a small business and needs YOU guys to help promote it! By people wearing Chi Flo, it sort of creates a little Chi Flo army. A bunch of people making a statement in favor of art, independent business, and staying Chi.

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I loved both of my purchases from Chi Flo, the Women’s Street Pigeon Crop Tee and neon pink beanie (pictured above) and I’m sure you will too!

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In honor of the launch of Chi Flo, Christina is offering Small Chick Big Deals readers an exclusive deal:

 Type SCBD into the code box at checkout to get 10% off entire purchase at Chi Flo from Monday the 18th-Wednesday the 20th! 🙂

Also be sure to sign up for the Chi Flo mailing list, here.

Happy Shopping and supporting Chi Flo! 😀

Sara SCBD Logo Edited

#SCBDExclusive Interview with Cheryl Burger, Owner of The Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe

This summer I had the opportunity to stop by a bake shoppe I had heard about while I was in school, check out my initial post on The Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe, here. One thing I love about it is that you always find the owner, Cheryl Burger at the shop working on her latest cupcake or cake pop creation and to greet new visitors. This year I had the opportunity to interview her where we discussed cupcakes, winning Cupcake Wars, and more.

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SCBD: When did you open The Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe?

CB: February 5, 2010

SCBD: Your cupcakes are delicious, have you always had a passion for baking?

CB: I’ve always loved to bake, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would do it for a living. 

SCBD: What’s your favorite cupcake you serve at the shop?

CB: Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Buttercream, simple, delicious, it’s a classic!

SCBD: You are always thinking outside of the box with your flavors, what is the latest cupcake at the shop?

CB: Guinness Cake with Bailey’s Buttercream is the newest addition to our cupcake family.  It’s like an Irish Car Bomb, but in a cupcake! 

SCBD: You also have cake truffles that are great. How’d you come up with them?

CB: I found them online a few years ago.  They are bite sized and different.  People have gone nuts for them.  They are great to take to parties and during the Christmas season we shape them like Santa Hats and Christmas trees.  They are so cute!

SCBD: You are always doing community events, why do you feel it’s so important to be in touch and involved with the community?

CB: I was raised to give back.  I have volunteered for various organizations since I was a kid.  To be honest, it never occurred to me not to give back.  I am so fortunate to have the success I have had and I am honored to be able to share that with the community that supports me.

SCBD: Owning a bake shop, you are constantly baking different cupcakes, cakes, etc for different holidays. What’s your favorite holiday to bake for? Why?

CB: Christmas, without question!  It’s the ultimate baking holiday!  Besides all the options and great flavors that Christmas is known for, what is better than Christmas cookies?! I honestly can’t believe I get to bake Christmas cookies for a living, who could ask for anything more.

SCBD: You were on and a winner of Cupcake Wars this year. What was that experience like for you?

CB: The entire experience was surreal.  Just to be picked for the show is an honor, but to win is amazing!  After seeing the show I went there expecting to have my cupcakes ripped apart, but the judges were so kind and had so many nice things to say about my work.  I was blown away!  I am dying to go back, but no word yet.

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SCBD: Has it affected your business for better or worst?

CB: The first few weeks were great in that business was booming, but we had a really hard time keeping up with demand.  We are now properly staffed and able to keep up with the increased demand, which is really my priority.  More business is always great, but you don’t want to disappoint the people who have supported you since the beginning.

SCBD: Have your expectations in the shop changed since you’ve won? How so?

CB:  I have a pretty focused goal for what I want the shop to be, what I want The Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe brand to be and how I want to grow.  I don’t think Cupcake Wars changed much, except that I’m meeting growth goals on a shorter timeline than I had originally planned.

SCBD: I am a young professional, what’s the best advice you got as a young professional, from who?

CB: My parents were extremely supportive of this entire venture and they reminded me constantly to stop listening to everyone who tells you that you can’t do something.  Not once did they question my vision or judgment.  It’s unbelievable the number of people who love to share statistics about small businesses failing, or question if you are qualified to do what you are doing.  Some of my own friends and family were and are skeptics.  You just have to ignore it.  Do what you know you’re good at and watch their jaws drop as you clear each hurdle.

SCBD: What advice do you have for the young professionals out there who are looking to start their own business?

CB: DO IT!  I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s easy, but it is worth it.  This is the time in your life that you can get away with the long hours and hectic lifestyle that comes with owning your own business.

SCBD:  What’s your life motto?

CB: “Look like a girl.  Act like a lady.  Think like a man.  Work like a boss.”

Thank you Cheryl for giving me the opportunity to interview you. If you are in New Jersey make sure you stop by one of my favorite cupcake shops, The Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe in Chester, NJ. You’ll be in for a treat!

In honor of the #SCBDAnniversary last week, The Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe has agreed to do a cake pop giveaway! Want to enter? It’s easy just become a fan of Small Chick Big Deals on Facebook and our 200th fan wins a dozen!

Sara SCBD Logo Edited

#SCBD Exclusive Interview with Marlo Scott, Owner of Sweet Revenge!

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Marlo Scott,  the owner of Sweet Revenge, a restaurant with a cupcake and wine bar in the West Village of NYC. Find out how the idea of Sweet Revenge came to life and more as we discussed life, baking, and her path to success.

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SCBD: Marlo, thank you for letting me have this opportunity to interview you. What is your favorite cupcake you serve or still serve at Sweet Revenge? What wine would you pair it with?

MS: The ‘Sweet Revenge’, which is peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache and crumbled peanuts. I’d pair it with an Argentinean Malbec. It tastes like an adult peanut butter & jelly, it’s delicious.

SCBD: Sweet Revenge is a restaurant with a cupcake and wine bar; you serve brunch on the weekend as well as breakfast & lunch during the week. What’s your favorite dish?

MS: My favorite dish is the Cuernavaca Salad with chicken. The truffled mac & cheese is a runner up, too. Our savory oatmeal is also a great brunch dish.

SCBD: I tried Sweet Revenge cupcakes a few weeks ago when I was in the area and it was unlike any cupcake I’ve had. What would you say makes your recipe different?

MS: Our secret is Mexican Vanilla, it is used in all of our cupcake recipes. Our recipes only use quality ingredients.

SCBD: In three words, describe Sweet Revenge for someone who might not have heard of it?

MS: I actually have four words that come to mind- sexy, playful, indulgent, escapist.

SCBD: Prior to opening Sweet Revenge you were working in the corporate world for media companies. What do you love best about having your own business?

MS: I love the freedom I have to take my ideas and bring them to life.

SCBD: On that note, Sweet Revenge is a huge success. You opened the restaurant & wine bar five years ago after being laid off from your job. But unlike most people you had this plan in action. Why do you think it’s so important to have a back up plan?

MS: Sweet Revenge was always in my plan. I am always thinking of different ideas and business plans and I still am.

SCBD: Do you still apply what you used in the media world to your business? How so?

MS: As an in-house banking analyst I had to develop pitches. I was able to use that skill when it came time to present for a SBA loan. When I worked for Time Inc. I lead a sales team which prepared me to lead my own team. 

SCBD: You are constantly speaking at different colleges and universities in the city about entrepreneurship, why do you think it’s so important to give back?

MS: I believe what you put out, you get back. I am grateful I always had mentors to help me. It’s fun to connect people and network. It feels great to be able to return the favor.

SCBD: What’s the best advice you got as a business professional, from who?

MS: Advice I took to heart was that when it comes to picking out a concept make sure it’s something you can live in 24/7. One of my mentors told me, “Sleep on it, don’t respond until you’re calm and level-headed.” In any business you always have to remember to slow down and think about your decisions rationally.

SCBD: What advice do you have for the young professionals out there who are looking to start their own business?

MS: Write a business plan and do your homework– that way you can build it, manifest it and make it a reality. This sets you up for success and strategically helps other buy in and believe in it.

SCBD: What’s the best part of living and working with cupcakes nonetheless in New York City?

MS: Satisfaction in coming here and see people enjoy it. It’s incredibly rewarding when I look at where I came from. I love that I can provide a delicious escape for others. I knew it was possible and now I witness it everyday.

SCBD: What’s your life motto?

MS: When I first started Sweet Revenge my motto was, “The sweetest revenge was to live life happily.” Since then the motto I live by is, “Live life deliciously.”  I believe we all can follow our dreams and make the impossible, possible if we are motivated enough. 

Delicious Brunch at Sweet Revenge:

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#SCBD Exclusive Interview with Aida Mollenkamp, Chef & Author of Keys to the Kitchen

A few weeks ago I was looking at cookbooks with my friend Ashley at Williams Sonoma. We came across Keys to the Kitchen by Aida Mollenkamp and we knew we had to get it! It has 305 recipes, 40 fundamental techniques, and 300 photographs & illustrations! It’s an ideal cookbook for any amateur chef since it covers all the basics.  Before Superstorm Sandy hit, I had the opportunity to interview Aida Mollenkamp about her first cookbook Keys to the Kitchen, life and following your dreams.

SCBD: Hi Aida, thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview you and tell my readers about your new and first cookbook, Keys to the KitchenYou have always been passionate about cooking, which eventually led to you studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. What was your favorite experience while at Le Cordon Bleu?

AM: There are so many memories from Le Cordon Bleu that it’s hard to pick one, but they all seem to come down to the experience and interaction that the French culture fosters with food.

One of my favorite moments was when my classmates and I gathered in the middle of the night in order to visit the Marché de Rungis when it opened in the pre-dawn hours. Rungis is one of the largest wholesale markets in Europe and has whole hangars dedicated not just to one animal but to one section of the animal, like offal! It was the first time I really understood that nose-to-tail eating was a very real concept and that the French had been doing it for years.

Aida Mollenkamp, Photo Credit: Robin Jolin

SCBD: I’ve been thinking of taking cooking classes so I can be a better cook & writer. Do you think it’s a good idea? Why?

AM: Well, I think that it’s important to learn something new everyday whether it’s a shortcut on your way to work or trying a new food when you eat. I personally really enjoy classes and like working collaboratively so cooking school really gave me a lot. It may not be for everyone but my belief is you build a solid and then you’ll be able to find your own voice, be it on the page or in the kitchen.

SCBD: You’ve had tons of editorial experience, what was the best part of working for a food magazine like CHOW?

AM: That too comes down to the things I learned. CHOW was founded by Jane Goldman who has had an impressive editorial career that’s included Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, Wired, and Industry Standard. Her journalistic approach to food reminded us that food writing doesn’t have to be precious and that we can and should talk about it in plain terms. That concept imbued the whole editorial vision and allowed us a lot of creative freedom in our recipes, food photography, and story concepts.

SCBD: You have quite a record and had two shows. Ask Aida which aired on Food Network followed by foodCrafters on The Cooking Channel, what was your favorite part about filming? What was your most memorable segment (on both or either show)?

AM: Oh, the crew would be my favorite part about filming – you get to work with amazingly talented people and it really is a group effort to make a show come to life. As for my most memorable segment, that’s really hard to say as I had some seriously awesome experiences. On Ask Aida, it would probably be one of the first days when I was told to never stop or call cut and to leave that to the producer. I began doing the show intro and had a pan with oil heating on the stove. Well, I went on a little too long and the pan caught fire but I was thinking, “the show must go on.” The producer thought I had a screw loose but I was just trying to follow orders!

On FoodCrafters it’s really hard to say because each experience was really unique. I adored making orange marmalade in traditional copper pots with Rachel Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit  because her work is proof that attention to quality ingredients and detail really makes a simple product like a preserve that much more exceptional.

Aida Mollenkamp, Photo Credit: Bonnie Tsang

SCBD: Those eventually led to you writing your first cookbook, which I bought this past weekend Keys to the Kitchen. It’s a cookbook that covers all the basics that every chef should know along with some delicious innovative recipes. How does it feel to have your first cookbook published?

AM: It’s really quite surreal. Keys To The Kitchen has been over two years in the works yet nothing really prepared me for the publication day. A fellow food writer told me it was like having a baby and, though I haven’t had a child, I do feel like this book was almost as much effort, attention, and work. The fun part is that now I get to travel around and share this book with people and do what I love: encourage people to have fun in the kitchen.

SCBD: All the recipes look delicious, what’s your personal favorite in the cookbook? Which should I start with?

AM: The great thing about Keys To The Kitchen is you can pretty much start anywhere. If you’ve really never cooked before, I’d take it easy and make baked eggs or one of the pastas. If you feel like baking, the Sage-Maple Cornbread is a lot of flavor for minimal effort. And if you want to try something different and a bit challenging, try out the Caramelized Fennel Tarte Tatin.

Aida Mollenkamp, Photo Credit: Bonnie Tsang

SCBD: Why do you think it’s so important for every chef or just newbie cooks to know basic techniques?

AM: My other love aside from cooking is music, and many a great musician would claim that you can’t make it your own and riff until you know the basics. Those basic techniques function like directions on a compass, without them you wouldn’t really know which way you’re headed.

SCBD: What’s your favorite dish to cook?

AM: That’s a hard question because it’s constantly changing. If I’m in the kitchen, it’s almost always about recipe testing so I don’t have a ton of time to cook just any old thing. I do really enjoy doughs and pastas because it’s a really apparent payoff as the effort and time you put in directly results in the level of quality of the finished product.

SCBD: You have a cookbook tour going on, what should people expect at the tour?

AM: What’s really great about this tour is that I’ve got an assortment of events as we’re doing almost 40 events in nearly 20 cities. I’m traveling with Williams-Sonoma to do cooking demonstrations in a variety of their stores; I’ve been holding cocktail parties in locations such as urban farms; am collaborating with some of my favorite food stores for hands-on cooking classes; and am doing a number of ticketed dinners through mid-December.

My belief is you eat three times a day so you might as well have fun with it, keep in interesting, and know how to make a few things and all these events weave in those concepts.

SCBD: What was the last dish you cooked?

AM: Let’s see, that would be veggie tacos I made for the site yesterday. I have a series called Pretty. Easy. where I teach simple recipes and ways to dress them up or further simplify them and this month will be quinoa, black bean, and caramelized onion tacos.

SCBD: What’s your life motto?

AM: I aim to seek adventures – be it as little as a new nail color or as massive as a trip somewhere foreign – every single day.

Aida Mollenkamp, Photo Credit: Bonnie Tsang

SCBD: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone trying to break into the many facets of the food industry?

AM: Well, it’s a lot of hard work so do what you love. Think about why you want to be in the industry – if you like making food gorgeous, you should aim for food photography; if you like food science, maybe a test kitchen is for you – and find people doing those jobs. Ask them what they’ve done and how they’ve gotten where they are. Finally, always be willing to take a bit of risk to go after what you want – I started as an unpaid intern at CHOW because I wanted that badly to be a part of something new and different like CHOW.

SCBD: You’ve accomplished a lot in a few years, where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

AM: To be honest, I’m just focused on the next 5 weeks. After that I’m going to need some serious rest and then I’ll start thinking about the long term future.

 Click here to order a copy of Keys to the Kitchen.

Aida Mollenkamp on Facebook & Twitter.

Be sure to grab a copy of Keys to the Kitchen!

It’s a cookbook I highly recommend– happy cooking! 🙂

#SCBDExclusive Interview with Jessica Stambach of Nonna’s Kitchenette of the #GreatFoodTruckRace!

Nonna’s Kitchenette is an Italian catering business founded by three Jersey girls. They also had the opportunity to be on the show lead by Food Network’s own Tyler Florence, The Great Food Truck Race. After various challenges they made it to 2nd place, check out my interview below with Jessica Stambach one of the ladies of Nonna’s Kitchenette and got the 411 on how they started and what’s in store for their future!

The ladies of Nonna’s Kitchenette!

SCBD: Thanks for letting me interview you. It was great to meet you and see fellow Jersey Girls on The Great Food Truck Race. I have a few questions. How did you all meet? Have you all always been foodies and love to cook? What part of New Jersey are you all from?

JS: Lisa & I met in Pre-school and Lisa actually met Jaclyn out in Los Angeles when both of them were living there. I then met Jaclyn through Lisa.

We all have Nonna’s who passed down recipes and their love for cooking. Growing up in households where food was everything, as adults we continue to share the love for cooking.

Lisa & Jessica are from Parsippany, New Jersey. Jaclyn is from West Caldwell.

SCBD: What inspired you to start Nonna’s Kitchenette?

JS: Well Lisa & I knew for years we wanted to share our love for cooking with everyone. However, she lived in California and I lived here in New Jersey. Several years later she moved home and sure enough we got started right away on creating a catering company and questioning the idea of a food truck.

SCBD: How did you find out about The Great Food Truck Race?

JS: I had watched previous seasons of the show and thought how great it would be if we could be on it, although we didn’t have a truck yet but we were looking at some. Lisa and I kept checking back for the casting of the show and one day there it was and in the best possible scenario. They were looking for people who have always wanted to own a food truck and start the business but people who have never owned or operated one before. We thought for sure right then and there it was meant to be.

SCBD: What was your favorite challenge on the show?

JS: I would say our favorite challenge was the French toast challenge. We won!

SCBD: What was your least favorite?

JS: I would say the cactus challenge but not because of the taste but because I had cuts in my hands for days!

SCBD: What was a lesson the three of you gained from the show?

JS: There is no specific lesson we learned as we learned everything about running a food truck from the inside and out. It was the best thing that could have happened to us because we truly got to experience all the aspects of it.

SCBD: Since you are all Italian, what’s the secret behind the Nonna’s Kitchenette meatballs?

JS: Well surely, the answer to this is love & of course fresh ingredients. Plus some fun twists like adding fresh chopped basil & fontina cheese.

SCBD: What was your favorite dish to cook on the show?

JS: I wouldn’t say we had a favorite to cook because they were all so great. Especially because they were all loved by everyone!

SCBD: What’s a personal recipe you recommend to an amateur chef like me? Who taught you this recipe?

JS: Well I would say our meatballs or our French toast recipe. We used flavors we grew up with but with our own twist. So we really self taught ourselves them. However, they’re our little secret!

SCBD: What was a motto you ladies lived by during the Great Food Truck Race?

JS: Our motto was to hustle always. We just had to give it our all, all the time!

SCBD: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting a career?

JS: I would first say to follow your dream but also to remember that things do not come easy and that you have to give it your all to succeed.

SCBD: What’s next for Nonna’s Kitchenette? Where do you think the three of you will be in 5 years?

JS: Currently Nonna’s Kitchenette is launching in Los Angeles with hopes to shortly launch in New Jersey soon after. I am most excited about writing a cook book based on my Nonna’s recipes and some of my own. I would hope to see my cook book published and doing well. As for the girls I cannot speak for them but I would say running the food trucks on the East and West coasts.

Thank you again for letting me interview you. It was great to meet you and hear about your experience on The Great Food Truck Race. Don’t forget to take a lot at the Nonna’s Kitchenette site, here.

Look out for more interviews on the way! Happy Eating! 😀