Καλή και δημιουργική χρονιά σε όλους σας με υγεία κι ευτυχία!
Δεν είναι υπέροχα αυτά τα Χριστουγεννιάτικα στολίδια; Είναι βρώσιμα! Φτιαγμένα εξ’ ολοκλήρου από την Julia M. Usher όπως και το μπισκοτένιο κουτί παρακάτω!
Απόψε έχω την τιμή να φιλοξενώ στο blog μου την κ. Julia M. Usher, την οποία θαυμάζω ως διακοσμήτρια μπισκότων. Η ίδια έχει πολλαπλές ιδιότητες όπως θα διαπιστώσετε μεταξύ των οποίων διακοσμήτρια μπισκότων, food stylist, συγγραφέας κ.ά.
Η πρώτη μου επαφή με την τέχνη της ήταν μέσω του δεύτερου βιβλίου της Ultimate Cookies το οποίο περιέχει μέσα κατασκευές από μπισκότα με αναλυτικές βήμα-προς-βήμα οδηγίες οι οποίες θα σας αφήσουν άφωνους!!!
Στη συνέχεια αναζήτησα και το βραβευμένο πρώτο βιβλίο της Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year που περιέχει μπισκότα για κάθε περίσταση!
Αργότερα, κυκλοφόρησε και το DVD με τα της σχετικά με την διακόσμηση μπισκότων, το οποίο δεν έβρισκα στην Ευρώπη κι έτσι βρήκα την ευκαιρία να επικοινωνήσω άμεσα μαζί της. Η απάντησή της ήταν άμεση και αρκετά κατατοπιστική για το πώς θα μπορούσα να το προμηθευτώ.
Την ίδια περίοδο ξεκίνησε και η λειτουργία της ιστοσελίδας της Cookie Connection, όπου μπορεί οποιοσδήποτε ασχολείται με τη διακόσμηση μπισκότων να μάθει, να μοιραστεί και να γιορτάσει την τέχνη της διακοσμητικής μπισκότων!
Σήμερα, αριθμεί περισσότερα από 2300 μέλη και φιλοξενεί χιλιάδες φωτογραφίες μπισκότων, αναρτήσεις, συνεντεύξεις διάσημων και ταλαντούχων διακοσμητών μπισκότων, video tutorials, συζητήσεις, επίλυση προβλημάτων και πολλά άλλα.
Πρόσφατα, έγινε διαθέσιμη και η εφαρμογή, app, με τα μαθήματα της Julia M. Usher η οποία και θα γίνει διαθέσιμη για μία ή έναν από εσάς αρκεί να αφήσετε ένα σχόλιο κάτω από αυτή την ανάρτηση και θα μπείτε αυτόματα σε κλήρωση (Giveaway) για να τη διεκδικήσετε. Στην κλήρωση θα συμμετάσχουν όσοι/ες σχολιάσουν ως και τις 6 Ιανουαρίου 2014, ενώ η κλήρωση θα πραγματοποιηθεί στις 7 Ιανουαρίου 2014 οπότε και θα ανακοινωθεί το όνομα του/της νικητή/τριας.
Η συγκεκριμένη εφαρμογή περιλαμβάνει:
- 20 cookie projects από το βιβλίο της Utlimate Cookies15 video με οδηγίες, τα οποία καλύπτουν ποικίλες τεχνικές, αναφερόμενα στα cookie projects
- Βήμα προς βήμα οδηγίες με φωτογραφίες του κάθε cookie project
- Δυνατότητα ταξινόμησης των projects ανάλογα με το βαθμό δυσκολίας
Μπορείτε να βρείτε τα βιβλία, το DVD καθώς και το νέο app της Julia M. Usher εδώ.
Ας γνωρίσουμε όμως καλύτερα την JuliaM. Usher μέσα από την συνέντευξη που είχε την καλοσύνη να μας παραχωρήσει!
Katia: Hi Julia! Where did you grow up?
Julia: I grew up in a rural town called Guilford. It’s in Connecticut, a state in the USA in a region called New England, because it was settled by the British.
Katia: What was it like to grow up in Guilford?
Julia: My childhood was great, mostly because I had parents who spent a lot of time with me and my siblings – my mom in the kitchen, and my dad over the kitchen table, helping us get through our math homework and enjoying all the tasty things that mom baked! (My mom is still a great baker, despite a recent discovery that she’s gluten-intolerant, and my dad was an engineer with an incredible aptitude for numbers.) I have also lived on the West Coast (in California) and currently live in the Midwest (St. Louis, MO), yet I still call New England “home” – I love its landscape, its longer history, and, of course, all the memories made while growing up there.
Katia: Did you have any people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.
Julia: Yeah, there are several, but probably the most influential was Mr. Harvey, my science teacher in middle school (grades 6 to 8). I was in an open classroom then, which meant we didn’t get taught through traditional lessons, reading, and homework – it was all experiential learning. We built a weather station on top of the school to study weather patterns; we went on hikes to gather rock samples and later catalogued them as part of our “geology module;” we gathered pond water samples to learn about the concept of a food chain . . . Mr. Harvey was so creative about how he taught us to learn – and so serious and committed to teaching us to learn. While many of my classmates thought he was a nerd, I secretly respected him for his creativity. (God forbid, I admit that out loud at that age, but I can safely say it now! J) He made me love – and live – to learn, and taught me a lot about the value of a strong work ethic.
Katia: Tell me how you first got involved in making cookies?
Julia: I starting making decorated cookies many moons ago (I dare not say how long), alongside my mom in the kitchen. Each Christmas, we went to town decorating cookies for the family and also for the many neighborhood holiday parties and cookie swaps – a cookie party that is a longstanding tradition in New England. But I didn’t start making cookies professionally until much later in life, when I opened my bakery AzucArte back in 1996. First and foremost, I am a pastry chef and food writer, though. Cookie decorating was just a sideline attraction in my business, which was primarily focused on custom wedding cakes. I became more widely associated with cookies only after closing my shop and publishing two books on the subject, the first (Cookie Swap) in 2009 and the second (Ultimate Cookies) in 2011.
Katia: What would you say most motivates you to do what you do? What are you most excited or passionate about?
Julia: I’m most passionate about making people’s eyes light up (and palates dance!) by seeing and tasting things that they have not experienced before. I firmly believe that beauty and an element of surprise can bring great joy to people’s lives.
Katia: What is the most unique, difficult or challenging about cookie decoration?
Julia: I actually think that one of the most unique things about cookie decorating is that it is less challenging/difficult than cake – or even cupcake – decorating! If you make a mistake, it’s relatively easy and cost-free to start all over again – or to eat it. Not so with cake decorating, where many more hours often go into the design and fabrication. What this means is that cookie decorating is an ideal place for beginning sweets decorators to get their feet wet by practicing piping skills and other techniques.
Katia: What is most rewarding about cookie decoration?
Julia: It’s possible to create a personalized, heartfelt work of art in a relatively short period of time, which means more joy (faster) in people’s lives!
Katia: What are the skills you need to have to get involved with cookie decoration?
Julia: I think it’s important to have patience and a strong desire to learn when just starting out. It can take a while to develop your own design aesthetic and strong piping or other decorating skills. Plus, there’s no doubt: cookie decorating is time-consuming, even for established decorators. It is a labor of love. If you don’t have patience, it’s unlikely you’ll ever get enough practice to substantially advance your skills.
Katia: Where and how did you learn those skills?
Julia: I learned most of my cookie decorating skills by reading cake decorating books or by trial and error in my bakery. There were no cookie decorating books or online tutorials when I started, and cake decorating skills are very transferable. Yet it was most often a quirky or challenging customer order that pushed me to try new things.
Katia: How did you first get involved in selling your cookies?
Julia: As I alluded to earlier, I sold my first cookies as a sideline when I owned my cake bakery from 1996 to 2004. Cakes and plated desserts were my primary lines of business. It’s tough to make much money from just selling cookies (or any one bakery item for that matter); it really pays to diversify especially if you have to cover the fixed costs of owning or leasing a brick-and-mortar facility outside of the home, as I did.
Katia: How long have you been selling your cookies?
Julia: I no longer sell cookies; I haven’t sold any baked goods since I closed my bakery in 2004 to focus on food writing and culinary instruction. I strictly make cookies now for teaching purposes – i.e., for books, online tutorials, videos, and so on.
Katia: Who is your typical customer or website visitor?
Julia: Again, I don’t sell cookies, so I don’t have a typical cookie customer. But my typical book or video customer (or site visitor) is usually someone interested in learning more about the decorative sugar arts, which often translates into younger (age 30 to early 40s) stay-at-home moms and beginning decorators – but not always. I have experienced professional decorators buying my books and videos too.
Katia: Does your business have an online presence on other social web spaces like: Yelp? Facebook? MySpace? YouTube? etc.
Julia: Yes, I have a personal website (www.juliausher.com) and I am also founder/host of the world’s largest online cookie decorating community (over 2300 members and 1 million monthly views) called Cookie Connection. (http://cookieconnection.juliausher.com/home)
Katia: Are there any press releases or online mentions in any magazines, newspapers, or online articles that you would like included in your article?
Katia: Julia’s decorated cookies, including these 3-D cookie heart boxes, were featured on the cover (and on page 48) of this popular online magazine‘s Valentine’s Day issue.
Julia M. Usher is a celebrated pastry chef, food writer, and food stylist whose work, both written and edible, has appeared in Vera Wang on Weddings, Bon Appétit, Fine Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens, Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion, Gastronomica, and nearly every national bridal magazine.
Julia: I am also a James Beard Awards finalist (2008, for food writing), and my first book (Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year) was the recipient of three prestigious Cordon d’ Or cookbook awards. In January, I will also be receiving a special cookie award, which I can tell you more about once it is announced.
Katia: What are some of your greatest challenges in your business?
Julia: My greatest challenges are finding enough personal time for me and my family and keeping my life balanced. Between writing books, producing apps and videos, teaching classes (I have five in Europe in 2014), and maintaining Cookie Connection, I am in over my head! But it’s hard to say “no” when these opportunities are all so interesting to me . . .
Katia: What’s next for you in your work? What are you looking forward to?
Julia: In addition to what I mentioned in the previous question, I’ll be continuing to expand my Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/JuliaMUsher) in 2014 under the guise of the Tastemade network. I also hope to start book number three in a couple of months, and will be shooting a sizzle reel for a new reality-based TV series focused on the sugar arts. The latter is particularly exciting for me, though it’s a complete long shot. Very few TV concepts ever get picked up by mainstream networks, but I’ll certainly try!
Katia: What is the most difficult decoration technique you have used?
Julia: I would have to say the needlepoint technique, mostly because it takes such precise piping to look best (in my opinion) and it’s hard to correct errors midstream.
Katia: What is your favourite decoration technique and why?
Julia: I don’t have one. My favorite decorating approach is to apply a bunch of techniques in different ways – or to build cookies up and out of the usual 2-D plane – to create that element of surprise that I think is so important in baking/decorating, and in life in general.
Katia: Are there any decoration techniques you would never use or recommend?
Julia: No, not really. My mantra is usually: the more, the merrier! Though I would say that I’m not a huge fan of the texture of rolled fondant. (No offense intended, fondant users!) I think it detracts from the crunchiness of the underlying cookie, so I tend to shy away from using it to cover entire cookies. However, I like using it in smaller doses to create 3-D (and easily removable) decorative embellishments.
Katia: How you came up with the Cookie Connection site idea? Which is the purpose of Cookie Connection?
Julia: A cookier friend (Jaci Baynes Harper aka Ali’s Sweet Tooth) actually encouraged me in the summer of 2013 to start the site, and I thought it was a great idea. There were few fully developed forums just for cookie decorators at that time, and those that existed didn’t seem visual enough to me. At that time (and still now), Facebook was also restricting unpaid access to people’s content, so there was less and less opportunity for great cookie work to be widely shared on that platform. Cookie Connection was basically born out of a desire to connect cookie decorators more meaningfully and to give them and their work greater exposure online. The tagline on the site probably states its purpose most clearly: Cookie Connection is a place to learn, share, and celebrate the art of cookie decorating.
Katia: Are there any minimum qualifications for someone in order to be a member of Cookie Connection?
Julia: No, anyone interested in cookie decorating for whatever reason can join, and it’s free to join.
Katia: Did you expect that it will attract this enormous number of members worldwide? How do you feel about that?
Julia: Yes, sort of – I really felt there was an unmet need for this sort of thing, which is why I started the site. Yet, that said, I’m still thrilled to see how quickly it’s been growing. We reached a major milestone in December by exceeding 1 million views, and our trajectory continues to be strong even after six successful months marked by rapid growth.
Katia: Do you travel world wide in order to teach the art cookie decorating?Do you intend to visit Greece for that purpose?
Julia: Yes, I love teaching (and it’s a large part of my business). I have classes in Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Portugal in 2014, along with ones in the United States, of course. I would love to come to Greece at some point, but, unfortunately, I cannot afford to fund the travel myself so I must wait for an invitation from a venue or host that can support those costs through class fees. So far no invitations from Greece – yet! But my fingers are crossed!
Katia: There are a lot of cookie decorators in Greece but they mainly use rolled fondant for decorating. Talking with some of them, they are afraid of using royal icing, they think that it is very difficult to pipe. What would you like to tell them about royal icing’s advantages when compared with fondant?
Julia: Well, like most things in decorating, there’s really nothing to fear – it’s more a matter of getting used to working with royal icing and practicing with it. As I mentioned earlier, I personally prefer the texture of icing (either royal or confectioner’s) next to a cookie. (I’m not a fan of fondant’s chewiness.) But I also think that piping allows for more design flexibility. While you can cut, shape, and emboss fondant, you can outline, flood, marble, and pipe myriad patterns with icing. Even if you love fondant, it’s nice to know how to work with icing because it definitely expands your tool kit and the range of decorative effects that you can achieve.
Katia: Julia, thank you very much for you time!